By KASIE HUNT and STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
KETTERING, Ohio (AP) — In ads, his own remarks and most recently the words of a top supporter, Republican Mitt Romney seems determined to soften emphasis on abortion and ignore facts critical to the auto industry as he seeks support from key voting groups in the waning days of a close race for the White House.
Even some Republicans as well as the automakers say Romney's campaign went too far with recent TV and radio ads that claim both Chrysler and General Motors are adding jobs in China at the expense of workers in Ohio.
"Under President Obama, GM cut 15,000 American jobs, but they are planning to double the number of cars built in China, which means 15,000 more jobs for China," said a radio ad running in Toledo and Dayton, where thousands of people rely on the auto industry for jobs.
"And now comes word that Chrysler is starting to build cars in, you guessed it, China."
The two named auto companies moved quickly to rebut the notion that they are moving U.S. jobs overseas.
"Chrysler Group's production plans for the Jeep brand have become the focus of public debate," CEO Sergio Marchionne wrote in an email sent to employees Tuesday. "I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China."
"We've clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days," said Greg Martin, a spokesman for GM. "No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country."
Romney's campaign declined to comment.
The ads mark Romney's latest attempt to reframe the debate on an issue that has plagued him from the beginning of his candidacy in Ohio, a crucial battleground state that has deep roots in the auto industry. He has long opposed the auto bailout industry that Obama's administration facilitated in the early days of the administration, saying he would not have permitted the government to loan General Motors and Chrysler federal funds to help them through a managed bankruptcy.
Several Republican strategists said the Romney campaign probably went too far by airing a TV ad in Ohio that suggests Jeep will move some operations out the state.
"It's the kind of thing that happens late in the campaign, when everybody's tired and you're not quite yourself," said veteran GOP strategist Mike McKenna of Richmond, Va. "It didn't help."
He added, "But I don't think it's a big thing. At this point, everybody has made up their mind."
Democrats have taken notice — and exception — to Romney's recent maneuvering.
Campaigning for Obama in Youngstown on Monday, former President Bill Clinton said Jeep has called Romney's claim "the biggest load of bull in the world." Vice President Joe Biden, added it was "bizarre."
In Michigan, Obama's campaign began airing an ad touting his record on the auto bailout. It's running in response to a Michigan spot from the independent group Restore Our Future, which supports Romney.
Romney's approach to abortion is more a matter of a change in tone, although one campaign surrogate, former Sen. Norm Coleman, recently assured an audience that the Supreme Court's 1973 opinion legalizing abortion is unlikely to be overturned if the Republican challenger wins the election.
Appearing in Beechwood, Ohio, on Monday, the former Minnesota senator suggested that abortion shouldn't be a paramount issue. "You've got to decide what's important right now, what's going to impact you right now," Coleman said in suburban Columbus where Romney is working to woo suburban women voters, many of whom support abortion rights.
"President Bush was president for eight years, Roe v. Wade wasn't reversed. He had two Supreme Court picks, Roe v. Wade wasn't reversed. It's not going to be reversed," Coleman said.
In an interview on Tuesday, Coleman told The Associated Press he had been speaking on his own behalf, and not for Romney.
He said he meant that the decision is longstanding precedent, and that Republicans would fight over issues like parental notification and partial birth abortion rather than Roe v Wade itself.
Romney himself has repeatedly said that he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, and promised to look for Supreme Court appointees who have opposed abortion rights. But Romney's campaign has also been airing an ad in Virginia that emphasizes he believes abortion "should be an option" in some cases, like rape, incest or where the health of the mother is threatened.