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Obama scores a point over Romney on auto industry

india Updated: Nov 03, 2012 08:08 IST

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President Barack Obama drove home a crucial contrast between himself and rival Mitt Romney on the campaign trail Friday, saying his auto bailout saved jobs while the Republican was willing to let the industry stall.

Venturing to the auto manufacturing heartland of Ohio, Obama and his surrogates had a blunt message for voters in this critical battleground state just four days from election day.

"Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," crowed Ohio's Democratic former governor Ted Strickland as he warmed up a crowd in the city of Lima ahead of Obama's appearance.

This region relatively close to Detroit -- Motor City, the historic birthplace of the American auto industry -- is a parts manufacturing powerhouse, with hundreds of thousands of jobs depending on the industry.

Chrysler has a factory in Ohio assembling its popular Jeep Wrangler 4X4.

The vote in critical battleground Ohio is leaning slightly to Obama, most polls show, but with one in eight Ohio jobs connected to the auto industry, assembly line workers and other car company employees are crucial pieces to the winning puzzle in a state many say will decide the November 6 election.

The financial crisis sent the automobile industry into a nosedive in late 2008, and America's "Big Three" automakers -- General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, asked for billions of dollars in bailout funds.

The US government dug deep into its pockets 2009 to rescue GM and Chrysler -- Ford ended up not taking bailout funds -- and on his three-city swing through Ohio on Friday, Obama was quick to remind voters of how he oversaw the bailout that revived an industry.

Obama argued that he offered tough love to the car companies, forcing them to restructure. GM shuttered some factories and dealerships and abandoned brands like Pontiac and Saturn, while Chrysler struck an alliance with Italy's Fiat.

Both US giants emerged from bankruptcy and returned to profitability, and "an American auto industry that had been written off is back on top of the world," Obama boasted to loud cheers in Lima.

As he has done countless times during the months-long campaign, Obama highlighted how Romney penned an op-ed piece in which he argued to "let Detroit go bankrupt" without much federal assistance.

"I understand governor Romney has had a tough time here in Ohio because he was against saving the auto industry," Obama said.

The president also accused Romney of running widely debunked advertisements that imply that US car companies like Chrysler are shifting jobs overseas to places like China, a charge Obama angrily denied as "not true."

"The car companies themselves have told Romney: knock it off," Obama said.

Indeed, Fiat's and Chrysler Group's boss Sergio Marchionne rejected the Romney assertion, saying flatly that "Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China."

"This isn't a game. These are people's jobs at stake," Obama said.

"You don't scare hardworking Americans just to scare up some votes."

Romney -- the son of the one-time chief executive of American Motors Corporation, which was eventually sold to Chrysler -- kept mum about the auto industry as he too campaigned in Ohio. But he has not distanced himself from the ads.

Instead, he flung economic arrows at Obama, including the rise of the official unemployment rate from 7.8 to 7.9 percent in October, despite better-than-expected growth of 171,000 new jobs.

"The president of the United States presides over a nation under his leadership where unemployment is higher than the day he took office," Romney said in Etna, a town outside Columbus.

A number of voters at Romney rallies in Ohio defended the Republican's position on the bailout, saying it left the state's workers in no better shape than if the companies were left to fend for themselves.

"Free enterprise! If they don't make it, they don't make it," said Jack Oney, 70, a retired air traffic controller.

In the short run, the bailout may have saved some jobs, Oney acknowledged. But, he added, "someone else would have done a better job and hired more people in the long run."

As for Ohio's unemployment rate steadily dropping to 7%, well below the national average, Oney argued that Obama does not deserve the credit.

"It's because of (Ohio Governor) John Kasich, because he drew more manufacturers back to Ohio, not Obama," he said.