By David Skolnick
Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is facing criticism on new TV and radio commercials about the auto industry rescue from not only Democrats and auto union leaders, but from officials with Chrysler and General Motors, which received federal bailout money.
The commercials came after Romney said last week in Defiance, Ohio, that he read an article that Chrysler “is thinking of moving all production [of Jeeps] to China.”
The TV and radio ads are playing in Ohio, including the Mahoning Valley.
Ohio is a key battleground state in the presidential election. Because the auto industry is one of the state’s biggest employers, the 2009 bailout of GM and Chrysler, led by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is one of the main issues.
Not only have media fact-checkers debunked that claim, but Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive officer, called it “inaccurate,” and that he felt “obligated to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States [they’re assembled in Toledo] to China.”
Instead, Chrysler, an Italian-owned company, intends to resume Jeep production in China to satisfy that country’s demand for the vehicle, Marchionne said.
Romney’s campaign modified the GOP nominee’s remarks in the commercials.
But fact-checkers at various media outlets call them “misleading.”
The Washington Post called the TV commercial “an excellent example of an ad that has a series of statements that individually might be factually defensible, but the overall impression is misleading.”
The Associated Press says “the ad, while technically accurate in its claims, is misleading.”
Christopher Maloney, a Romney campaign spokesman, said, “Despite the baseless assertions of President Obama’s allies, the ad is factual.”
The TV commercial states that “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”
The radio ad, which started Tuesday, states: “Barack Obama says he saved the auto industry. But for who? Ohio or China? 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. And now comes word that Chrysler plans to start making Jeeps in, you guessed it, China.”
That led Greg Martin, a GM spokesman, to tell the Detroit Free Press: “We’ve clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days. No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S.”
Maloney didn’t address the statements from Chrysler and GM officials.
But he said, “The partisan criticism proves that president’s allies are not interested in engaging in a meaningful conversation about the Obama administration’s record during the last week of the campaign.”
Bob King, the national United Auto Workers chairman, said Tuesday at the UAW Local 1112 hall that the ads are “unbelievable lies,” and “outrageous.”
The union hall is a short distance from the Lordstown GM complex that makes the best-selling Chevrolet Cruze, and employs 4,500 workers.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, said Romney has “hung himself now. He clearly lied and I think what’s so powerful about it is he didn’t get called out by Obama or [U.S. Sen.] Sherrod [Brown] or me. He got called out by Chrysler.”
Brown, campaigning at the UAW hall with about 200 in attendance, said Republicans are “desperate” when they discuss the $82 billion federal government’s rescue.
“I find it offensive and disingenuous that ... these people who fought the auto rescue and tried to defeat it would run that ad that is just clearly untrue about autos, about China,” Brown said.
In a Tuesday interview with The Vindicator, Steve Rattner, the former head of the president’s auto task force, said he was “amazed” by Martin’s critical comment.
GM and Chrysler officials “feel they’re being dragged into a political campaign in the most dishonest, cynical way,” Rattner said. “To be accused by someone who’s a presidential candidate of exporting jobs is infuriating. Romney crossed the line here. It’s one thing to have a point of view or to shape something to help a position. It’s another thing to just make things up out of whole cloth.”
Rattner said the comment was “irresponsible.”
Rattner said he didn’t expect Romney to apologize for the comment last week in Defiance, “but I didn’t expect him to double-down. He recut the ad to make it less false, but the insinuation is there.”
The Obama campaign began running a TV ad on Tuesday that calls Romney’s commercials “dishonest” and that Chrysler “refuted Romney’s lie.”
Maloney said: “At a time in which our economy is struggling, we should be working to bolster domestic manufacturing, job creation and exports as opposed to those of our foreign competitors.”
Brown brought his “Road to Ohio Jobs Tour” to Lordstown on Monday, the fifth day of the seven-day campaign. It was the 18th stop on a 25-community tour of the state in which the incumbent Democrat is talking about his support for middle-class jobs and growing the economy.
Brown’s campaign is traveling in Ohio-made Chevy Cruzes and a Jeep Wrangler.
Brown is in a tight race with Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican, for the Senate seat.
Brown criticized Mandel saying the two differ on several key issues such as the auto rescue, health care and Medicare, and trade.
Brown said Mandel is an opportunist who is more interested in his next job than good government.
In response, Mandel said he and Brown differ on many issues, and that his jobs plan “will make Ohio a world leader in manufacturing and energy development.”
Mandel’s campaign declined to comment on Romney’s comments and commercials about Chrysler and GM.