President Barack Obama’s campaign said it will air an Ohio television ad that rebuts what outside observers call a false impression left by Republican challenger Mitt Romney about Chrysler Group LLC moving Jeep production to China.
As images of cars being crushed are shown in a recent 30-second Romney campaign commercial, a narrator says Obama “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.” It began airing this weekend and had appeared 15 times on Toledo stations and 14 times in Youngstown by yesterday morning, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, a New York-based political ad tracker.
What isn’t said in Romney’s ad is that Chrysler is retaining and expanding its North America Jeep operations, including in Toledo, as it separately weighs breaking into China, the world’s largest auto market. Chrysler emphasized in a blog post that it has “no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China.”
“They are inviting a false inference,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said of the Romney campaign. “It is literally accurate and inferentially false. We also call it ‘not the whole story.’”
The ad follows similar comments Romney made last week in Defiance, Ohio, prompting rebukes from the United Auto Workers and Obama’s campaign. Speaking at an Obama campaign rally today in Youngstown, former President Bill Clinton said Chrysler called it “the biggest load of bull in the world” that they’d consider shutting down Jeep’s North America operations.
Both White House candidates are fighting for votes in a state where polls show them in a tight race. Ohio, which is second only to Michigan in auto industry jobs, benefited from the government-backed bankruptcy of General Motors Co. and Chrysler under Obama. Romney opposed that bailout.
Obama’s response ad, released today, will start airing tomorrow on TV in Ohio, the campaign said. The ad says Romney “turned his back” on the auto industry and then pivots to the Jeep issue. “And now, after Romney’s false claim of Jeep outsourcing to China, Chrysler itself has refuted Romney’s lie,” a narrator says. The ads concludes: “Mitt Romney on Ohio jobs? Wrong then, dishonest now.”
Italian Fiat SpA, majority owner of Chrysler, is in discussions with its Chinese partner, Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., to make Jeeps in China.
China taxes imported vehicles and is proposing additional tariffs on U.S.-made vehicles. China argues that U.S. taxpayer support of the industry, particularly GM and Chrysler, were illegal under World Trade Organization rules. To avoid China’s tariffs on imported vehicles, automakers typically form joint ventures with Chinese companies to make cars and trucks in the country.
At the same time, Chrysler is adding production crews at Toledo and Detroit plants, an expansion that the company said means 2,200 new jobs.
Romney made his statement about Jeep decamping for China before a crowd of 12,000 supporters at his Oct. 25 rally in Defiance. The singer Meat Loaf performed at the event in the Defiance High School football stadium.
“I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China,” Romney said. “I will fight for every good job in America, I’m going to fight to make sure trade is fair.”
Romney’s Toledo ad cites an Oct. 22 Bloomberg News story about Fiat’s discussions with Guangzhou. Even before Romney spoke in Defiance, Chrysler defended the story while addressing people who may be misinterpreting or misusing it.
“Despite clear and accurate reporting, the take has given birth to a number of stories making readers believe that Chrysler plans to shift all Jeep production to China from North America, and therefore idle assembly lines and U.S. workforce,” Gaulberto Ranieri, a senior vice president for corporate communications, wrote in an Oct. 25 blog post on Chrysler’s website. “It is a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats.”
The company has no intention of abandoning its North America production, Ranieri wrote. “A careful and unbiased reading of the Bloomberg take would have saved unnecessary fantasies and extravagant comments.”
Romney officials didn’t announce the new ad before it was released, as the campaign has with many of its commercials.
“The fact that they didn’t release it publicly tells you they know the ad is dishonest,” Hall Jamieson said. She said the ad builds on Romney’s message that Obama is shipping jobs overseas and that the bailout wasn’t effective.
The UAW condemned Romney’s Defiance comments and the subsequent ad.
“Anyone with an ounce of knowledge about the auto industry and Chrysler’s production plans would know what Mitt Romney said wasn’t true,” UAW Vice President General Holiefield, who directs the union’s Chrysler Department, said in an Oct. 27 press release.
Ken Lortz, UAW director of the region that includes Ohio and Indiana, said in an Obama campaign conference call with reporters today that the Romney ad represents “the lowest form of political tactics.” The spot features “clever word-smithing” to avoid outright falsehoods, he said, “but the intent of the ad is completely dishonest.”
Chrysler announced a year ago that it would add 1,100 jobs to the Toledo Jeep plant and in January that it will add a third crew and 1,100 jobs at its Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, which makes Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango sports-utility vehicles.
Ohio has the second-highest total automotive industry employment after Michigan, with almost 850,000 jobs from manufacturing, parts and dealers, according to an April 2010 report by the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The center concluded that under a worst-case bankruptcy scenario for Chrysler and GM under which GM never fully recovered, Ohio would have lost more than 201,000 auto-related jobs in 2009 and 2010, a May 2009 report said.
The industry accounts for 4 percent of Ohio’s jobs, and since 2009, the start of Obama’s bailout initiatives, auto-related jobs have increased by 6.1 percent, or 11,100 jobs in Ohio, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis.
That has helped keep Ohio’s unemployment rate lower than the national average, the analysis concluded. In September, the jobless rate in the Buckeye State was 7 percent compared with the U.S. rate of 7.8 percent that month.
Former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland has said he thinks Obama will carry Ohio in large part because of the auto bailout, and that Romney is now “desperate” to address the issue because “he knows he’s losing” the state.
“But for him to do what he did is despicable,” Strickland said of the Jeep comments in an Oct. 26 interview on MSNBC. “Think of the angst that those workers felt when they heard him say that. And obviously, it showed a lack of judgment and a lack of truthfulness. This man is not ready to be the President of the United States of America.”