Obama, Romney campaigns continue auto fight in Ohio

WASHINGTON—The ad fight continues in Ohio between President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s campaigns over the auto industry, with Romney doubling down Tuesday with a new radio spot insinuating that the 2009 bailout caused the industry to ship jobs to China.

The Romney campaign asserts that Romney, whose father once headed American Motors Corp., would stand up for the auto industry—“in Ohio, not China”—because he grew up in the industry. The ad accuses Obama of championing policies that resulted in the off-shoring of American jobs.

The problem that the Republican nominee faces is that the $80 billion government bailout for Chrysler and General Motors helped save auto jobs in northern Ohio, industry analysts have repeatedly said. And while Chrysler is restarting its China operations for its Chinese market, it will not be moving Jeep production from the United States to China, as the Romney ad infers, the company reiterated Tuesday.

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Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne sent an e-mail to employees Monday setting the record straight because, Marchionne wrote, its Jeep production plans have become the focus of public debate. He did not mention Romney by name.

“I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China,” Marchionne said.

Instead, he said, the company is investing more than $1.7 billion to develop and produce Jeeps in the United States—including $500 million directly to expand its Toledo assembly plant and to hire 1,100 additional workers by 2013. The Wrangler nameplate produced in Toledo will never see full production outside the United States, Marchionne said.

“Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand,” he said. “It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.”

The company had already released a statement last week denying it would move American jobs overseas after Romney made that claim during a campaign event in Defiance, Ohio.

Even after Chrysler said it has no such intent, Romney’s campaign released a 30-second ad in Toledo on Sunday that implied the outsourcing of Ohio jobs and said Romney would do more for the auto industry.

The Obama campaign fought back in Ohio on Monday with an ad that portrayed Romney as having turned his back on the auto industry for not supporting the bailout, and criticized him for his assertion that Jeep would ship jobs to China.

Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden and former president Bill Clinton, have characterized Romney’s auto ads as desperate. On Tuesday the Obama campaign used Romney’s ads as an opportunity to assail his character.

“Mitt Romney is losing Ohio and he knows it. There’s no other excuse for why he’d run a radio ad that’s even worse than the false TV ad that the Cleveland Plain Dealer slammed as a ‘masterpiece of misdirection,’” said Danny Kanner, a campaign spokesman, in a statement.

“Ohioans know the truth – President Obama saved an industry that supports one in eight jobs in the state – and they won’t be fooled by these desperate tactics,” Kanner said. “We’ve always known Mitt Romney would say absolutely anything to win this election, but as he sees it slipping away in the final week, the American people simply cannot trust a word he says.”

The Romney campaign responded to a Globe request for comment by criticizing Obama’s record.

“It appears the Obama campaign is less concerned with engaging in a meaningful conversation about President Obama’s failed policies and more concerned with arguing against facts about their record they dislike,” said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams. “The American people will see their desperate arguments for what they are.”

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