In 2009, Obama's administration used billions of taxpayer dollars to keep General Motors and Chrysler afloat while they reorganized through bankruptcy. Romney said the companies should have been allowed to enter bankruptcy without government help. But an array of officials at the time said the automakers would have gone under without it.
GM still owes the government about $25 billion. But many workers in Ohio and elsewhere consider the auto bailout a success.
It affected thousands of businesses, some of them fairly small, that make an array of products that go into vehicles, new and used. Jeff Gase, a UAW union member who introduced Obama at a Columbus rally last week, credited the president with saving the paint company where he works. "Mom and pop body shops" buy the paint, Gase said, and now his plant is running "full steam ahead."
Romney notes that many Ohio car dealerships went out of business during the industry reorganization.
But he is having trouble connecting with middle class Ohioans, said Tony Tenorio, who hears political conversations in his job as an Applebee's restaurant manager. In June, when he worked in Elyria, Tenorio said many Ohio residents seemed ready to bail on Obama. Now, working at an Applebee's in the more affluent town of West Lake, Tenorio says those same people seem unmoved by Romney.
Still, the Republican is pushing hard. Romney has forced Obama to run ads in Ohio defending the administration's handling of China trade and the U.S. coal industry. Romney's ads say government regulations are stifling the energy industry and Obama hasn't been tough enough on China's protection of its exporters, two claims the administration rejects.
Ohio, meanwhile, appears to be the only state this week where Obama's campaign is still airing a 60-second ad called "The Question," which disputes Romney's claim that Americans are worse off than they were four years ago.
Romney political director Rich Beeson told reporters Tuesday that Obama's campaign is prematurely "spiking the ball at the 30-yard line." He said Romney is within striking distance in Ohio.
Charles Babington reported from Washington.
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