Romney opposed federal subsidies that propped up Chrysler and General Motors as they approached bankruptcy in early 2009. Romney said private investments should have been used, but officials overseeing the process said no such funds were available and the companies would have collapsed.
"The rescue of the auto industry was the greatest contributor" to Ohio's recent economic growth, said former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat ousted by Kasich in 2010. When Romney called it an unwarranted payoff to labor unions, Strickland said, he showed "a lack of understanding of this industry."
If Ohio's manufacturing sector is showing new signs of life, many residents have yet to see it. The impact on the presidential race is hard to predict.
In Elyria, west of Cleveland and not far from Lorain, college-educated people who once made $60,000 a year are begging for jobs as cooks making $9.50 an hour at Applebee's, said the restaurant's manager, Tony Tenorio.
"We get tons and tons of applications," said Tenorio, 30. "We can be really picky."
Across the street are empty buildings that once housed a T.G.I. Friday's, Longhorn Steakhouse and the Eat'n Park cafe. "It's pretty tough," Tenorio said, adding that Applebee's less-expensive entrees are popular.
He said Obama may struggle to win Ohio again this year. "Talking with people, I don't think the working class has his back," Tenorio said. Voters may be willing to give Romney a chance, he said.
"The American people are pulling at straws," Tenorio said. "If this straw doesn't work, maybe another one will."
At a nearby food court, Dave Moore, 68, was having coffee and a snack with some fellow retirees. Moore once had a unionized custodial job at a grocery chain. He retired in 2003, then found it impossible to land another job when he sought work a few years later.
"I can't use a computer," Moore said glumly.
Moore, a Democrat, said he will vote for Obama, albeit with little enthusiasm. "Romney scares me," he said. "He's big business. Does he think of us, the little guy?"
"Obama does a little more for us," Moore said, nibbling a cookie. "It's better than nothing."
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