Over the past week, auto bailout politics have flared red hot in the state. Obama hammered Romney during the final debate last week over his opposition to the auto bailout, then renewed that criticism against Romney with greater emphasis in Ohio. During that period, polls showed Romney slipping in Ohio among white, working-class voters, a group he has courted aggressively and who polls show have favored him in other states.
Mindful of the stakes, Romney has spent considerable time in Ohio during the final weeks. But Romney's internal polling still shows the race stubbornly close. Campaign aides say that's because voters give Obama credit for rescuing the auto companies, which also kept dozens of parts manufacturers and other associated businesses afloat.
Both GM and Chrysler have taken issue with the ads recent days, emphasizing that they are not sending jobs abroad that would otherwise employ Americans. "Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China," Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne wrote an email to employees on Tuesday. And newspapers in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Youngstown all ran stories or editorials highlighting the automakers' objections or mentioning problems with the Republican's ads.
One or both of those commercials are airing in Toledo, Dayton and Youngstown, where thousands of people have jobs in part because of the government loans that helped General Motors and Chrysler through a managed bankruptcy.
Ohio Republicans say the auto bailout has been — and continues to be — an obstacle for Romney in Ohio.
"No doubt, it's having an effect," said Gene Pierce, veteran Republican campaign consultant.
Some Republicans say it's wise that Romney is working to reclaim a share of that vote by arguing the bailout was not the industry savior Obama suggests.
But some also say the Jeep ad is misleading, and worry it feeds characterizations of Romney as untrustworthy — or runs contrary to traditional GOP arguments about free enterprise.
"Obama has been consistently ahead in Ohio because of the relatively good economy and the impression that the auto bailout worked and that Romney was against it," said Ohio Republican campaign strategist Matt Cox. "Romney may now be trying to convince Ohioans that the auto bailout didn't work or had unintended consequences in an attempt to change those impressions."
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples, Matthew Daly, Martin Crutsinger and Thomas Beaumont contributed to this report.
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