Biden Touts Auto Recovery to Rally Democrats to Re-Elect

Vice President Joe Biden kicked off a visit to Ohio’s Democrat-rich Youngstown area aimed at bolstering support among party activists by saying the region and nation would be better off with “Obama economics” compared with “Romney economics.”

The Obama administration “values the role of workers,” Biden said in a speech yesterday at M-7 Technologies, a closely-held manufacturing company with 30 employees. The approach of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, he said, is “as long as the government helps the guys at the top to do well, workers and small businesses and communities, they can fend for themselves.”

Biden made his case in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, a region in Eastern Ohio that gave Obama 58.5 percent of the vote in 2008 and where “Black Monday” refers not to a stock market crash but the day in 1977 when Youngstown Sheet & Tube announced shutdowns marking the end of the area’s steel era.

“You’ve been through hell and back,” Biden said in his speech. “Outsourcing. Padlocked plant gates. Closed businesses in your communities.”

Winning Ohio

Biden is scheduled to speak today at Staffilino Chevrolet, a Martins Ferry dealership that the Obama campaign said “was saved by the rescue of the auto industry.” It’s part of an effort to turn out Democratic voters in Ohio, which has backed the White House winner in 12 consecutive elections and where voter mobilization could decide the race, said Bill Binning, chairman emeritus of the political science department at Youngstown State University.

Republicans are contesting the region. Romney held a campaign event in Youngstown on March 5, and Real Leader PAC, a super political action committee backed by a wealthy Republican, has aired television ads in Youngstown criticizing Obama’s leadership compared with other Democratic presidents in a bid to depress enthusiasm among Democrats, said Binning, the Republican Party county chairman in the 1980s.

“I would explain virtually anything either side is doing is to dampen the other side’s turnout or increase their turnout,” Binning said in a telephone interview.

A poll released May 3 by Quinnipiac University showed the Ohio race is close, with Obama leading Romney 44 percent to 42 percent. The telephone survey of 1,130 Ohio voters from April 25 to May 1 had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Critical Counties

Obama won Ohio in 2008 with 51.5 percent of the vote, and his 57,835-vote plurality in Mahoning and neighboring Trumbull County accounted for 22 percent of his victory margin statewide, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

In his speech, Biden contrasted the Obama administration’s economic efforts, including a rescue of the domestic auto industry in 2008-09, with Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital LLC, the private equity firm that the former Massachusetts governor co-founded. Biden cited companies that Bain acquired that eventually went bankrupt.

“Romney made sure the guys on top got to play by a separate set of rules, he ran up massive debts, and the middle class lost,” said Biden, who spent the first part of his childhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, another manufacturing-based city. “And folks, he thinks that experience is going to help our economy?”

Failed Promises

While Romney is a successful businessman, Obama and Biden made promises to turnaround the economy that haven’t been kept, Romney spokesman Ryan Williams, who attended the Biden speech in Youngstown, said in an interview.

“Their liberal economic policies have failed to deliver on those promises, and voters are looking for a change in November,” Williams said.

Ohio ranks seventh in improving economic health in the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States from the fourth quarter of 2010 through the fourth quarter of last year, the most recent data available.

The Youngstown-Warren metropolitan area had a 46.2 percent decline in manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2010, the 95th worst among the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, according to a report released May 9 by the Brookings Institution in Washington. From the first quarter of 2010 through the fourth quarter of 2011, manufacturing in the Youngstown area increased by 11.7 percent, third-best nationally, the report said.

Auto Plant Jobs

The increase has been fueled in part by General Motors Co.’s plant in nearby Lordstown, which is working with three shifts making the Chevy Cruze, and Vallourec SA’s V&M Star unit in Youngstown, which is completing a mill to produce small steel tubes to exploit the region’s shale-gas boom.

The Obama administration will get credit for the up-tick in manufacturing, especially in the automotive sector, and that will energize Democrats in the Mahoning Valley and across Ohio, where one in eight jobs is tied to that industry, said former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat who represented portions of the Mahoning Valley while in Congress.

“The president has walked the walk,” Strickland, who supported Hillary Clinton over Obama in the 2008 presidential primary and now is one of the president’s national co-chairmen, told reporters in a May 15 conference call. “He has produced, he has made sure that jobs were retained and created, and I think the Mahoning Valley will richly reward him in November as a result.”

Firefighters’ ‘DNA’

After his Youngstown speech, Biden met with 13 firefighters in Salem, Ohio, about 20 miles to the southwest. Biden told them they “have been to hell and back” with budget cuts and increased demands in their roles as first responders.

“Thank God you guys are so crazy, thank God it’s in your DNA,” Biden said.

Biden, 69, mentioned the death of his first wife and daughter in 1972 in an auto accident, and said firefighters saved his two sons’ lives in the crash. Biden also said a local fire department saved his own life when he suffered a brain aneurysm in 1988, and that firefighters responded when his Delaware home was struck by lightning 2007.

David W. Johnson, chairman of the Columbiana County Republican Party and chief executive officer at Summitville Tiles Inc., said he thinks voters in the Mahoning Valley will opt for Romney’s approach of cutting taxes and allowing private businesses to create jobs.

“We’ve tried Obama’s way the last four years, and it’s been a failure,” Johnson said in a telephone interview.

Democrat Mark Messenger, 60, a retired worker from GM’s Lordstown plant where his 30-year-old daughter works, said while the Mahoning Valley’s economy still needs to improve, he’s voting for Obama in November because he thinks Republican policies led to the economic downturn.

“The economy’s still slow because there’s so much to fix,” Messenger said in an interview after Biden’s speech.

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