TOLEDO, Ohio — The ad from Mitt Romney showed up on televisions here Saturday morning without the usual public announcement that both campaigns typically use to herald their latest commercials: Chrysler, a bailout recipient, is going to begin producing Jeeps in China, an announcer says, leaving the misleading impression that the move would come at the expense of jobs in Ohio.
And so began the latest, and perhaps most important, attempt by Romney to wrest Ohio into his column. His effort, at times including statements that stretch or ignore the facts, seeks to knock down what is perhaps the most important component of President Barack Obama's appeal to blue-collar voters in Ohio and across the industrial Midwest: the success of the president's 2009 auto bailout.
Obama's relatively strong standing in most polls in Ohio so far has been attributed by members of both parties to the recovery of the auto industry, which has helped the state economy outperform the national economy. At the same time, the industry's performance and the president's claim to credit for it appear to have helped Obama among the white working-class voters Romney needs.
With Ohio a crucial battleground state, Romney has spent the past few days aggressively trying to undercut Obama's auto bailout narrative.
His running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, has accused Obama of allowing the bailout to bypass nonunion workers at Delphi, a big auto parts maker with operations in Ohio; Romney has characterized Obama's bailout plan as based on his approach; and Romney incorrectly told a rally in Defiance, Ohio, late last week outright that Jeep was considering moving its production to China. (Jeep is discussing increasing production in China for sales within China; it is not moving jobs out of Ohio or the United States, or building cars in China for export to the United States.)
It is a high-risk strategy by Romney: Jeep's corporate parent, Chrysler, had already released a scathing statement calling suggestions that Jeep was moving U.S. jobs to China "fantasies" and "extravagant"; media outlets here and nationally have called the Romney campaign's statements — initially based on a poorly worded quotation from Chrysler in a news article that was misinterpreted by blogs — misleading.
Obama's campaign, seeking to maintain what it sees as its advantage in Ohio, responded Monday by releasing a commercial calling Romney's ad false and reiterating that Romney had opposed the bailout on the terms supported by Obama. And Sunday it dispatched the investment banker who helped develop the bailout, Steven Rattner, to Ohio to discuss Jeep's plans and the auto rescue with local news organizations.
Democrats are hoping that Romney's latest move will draw a backlash.
Calling the ad a "blatant attempt to create a false impression," former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, demanded Romney take it down Monday. Stuart Stevens, a Romney adviser, disputed that the ad is misleading.