NYU's Election Day coverage from the ground.
Romney’s most recent gaffe was a false claim about the auto industry. Oh, and it happened in the state he’s trying hardest to win—Ohio.
By Liyan Chen
Romney recently raised a controversy in Ohio—a key battleground state—when he falsely claimed that a major American auto manufacturer plans to send local factory jobs overseas.
At a rally in Defiance, Ohio, on Oct. 25, Romney told a crowd of 12,000 people that “Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.”
The story that Romney cited was a Bloomberg News article that ran Oct. 22. The original story accurately stated that Fiat, majority owner of the Chrysler Group LLC, plans to “return Jeep output to China and may eventually make all of its models in that country.”
Shortly after Romney’s comments, Chrysler’s CEO Sergio Marchionne wrote an email to employees, ensuring that Jeep production will not leave Ohio for China. “It is inaccurate to suggest anything different,” Marchionne wrote in the email.
“Romney wanted to puncture Obama’s record on the auto bailout,” said Tom Troy, political writer at The Blade, who has been covering the election in Toledo, Ohio. “But he mischaracterized what he read.”
Romney’s incorrect statement intensified the dispute on the auto industry bailout in the Midwest between two campaigns. In response to Romney’s statement, the Obama campaign launched a new TV commercial in Ohio last week, attacking Romney’s false claim.
“When the auto industry faced collapse, Mitt Romney turned his back. …Mitt Romney on Ohio’s jobs, wrong then, dishonest now,” said the narrator in Obama’s commercial. The commercial cited Detroit News’ criticism on Romney’s “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” statement and Chrysler’s refute of Romney’s Jeep claims.
The auto industry bailout has been a core theme for Obama’s campaign in Ohio, because of its popularity among voters in that state. While Obama’s other policies like healthcare reform are less popular and more controversial among Ohio voters, his support for the auto bailout is a “signature achievement in Ohio,” according to Troy.
Troy suggested that Romney was trying to distract the Ohio voters from the auto bailout and draw their attention to the national economy. But there has been “no push-back” on the bailout.
“But what can you say? [The auto bailout] is unquestionable success,” Troy said.
Ohio’s economy has performed better than the national average since the Obama administration issued the bailout. Unemployment in the state has dropped to 7 percent in September, which remains below the national unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.
“Ohio is a swing state with strong industrial base. [The auto bailout] touched the nerve of voters,” said Philip Xie, a professor at Bowling Green State University.
Xie said that Romney and Obama present very different perspectives on the auto industry and jobs creation in Ohio. While Obama tries to highlight the success of the auto bailout, Romney is trying to suggest that manufacturing jobs will never return to Ohio.
A native of China and a resident of northwest Ohio, Xie said that Chinese Americans in the region “are living conflicted life,” as the debate on outsourcing jobs to China intensified. Romney’s auto bailout comment was one of the many examples.
“China is a scapegoat during the whole election,” he said. “Every time something happens, it’s China’s fault. Every politician is trying to use China for their purpose.”
But it remains unclear whether the dispute on the auto industry bailout will have real impact on the election.
“Of course you won’t know until Nov 6. But Romney and Obama mentioned [the auto bailout] in every possible way. People got the message,” Troy said.