Obama also should be credited for being "aggressive" in providing stimulus dollars. Ohio received about $8.8 billion, with much going to communities such as Canton. Mayor Healy says his city is still struggling, but without those funds "we would have been in a world of hurt."
Hill also praises Obama for "having the guts to do the auto bailout," which he says "preserved a large part of the state's economy."
Campbell, the Moody's analyst, agrees it was helpful. "The jobless rate definitely would have been higher if we had not had the rescue," he says.
The U.S. auto industry's renewed vigor has become frequent fodder for Obama and other Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, a target of Republican super PACS in his re-election bid. In one TV ad, the senator touts his support of the bailout standing before a Chevy Cruze, rattling off Ohio cities that produce parts of the car.
And in campaign appearances before autoworkers, the president and Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly remind voters Romney opposed the bailout, sometimes referring to the Republican nominee's widely quoted 2008 op-ed piece in the New York Times, titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
Romney preferred a managed bankruptcy, without federal money, and maintains the rescue was unfair, unnecessary and political payback to the unions.
While the candidates differ on the need for the bailout, Obama and Kasich, the governor, differ on its impact.
Kasich's office says that since he became governor (20 months ago), the 122,500 new jobs have been in areas such as plastics, metal and food manufacturing, health care and information technology — and auto jobs have actually dropped by 3,200. That count is limited to workers who assemble cars and make parts.
The Obama administration takes a longer and wider view in a bailout that began under former President George Bush, more than two years before Kasich became governor. In a three-year period starting in June 2009 — when GM and Chrysler were emerging from bankruptcy — it reports a gain of 17,400 industry jobs. Those numbers include auto parts stores and dealerships.
What is indisputable is the auto turnaround has been good for Ohio, where about one in eight jobs is linked to the industry.
In August, GM announced it will invest $220 million in manufacturing plants in Lordstown and Parma to build the next-generation Cruze, preserving more than 5,000 jobs. Chrysler is adding 1,100 jobs by late 2013 at its assembly complex in Toledo where it will make a new Jeep sport utility vehicle. Three years ago, there were rumors about the plant's future after production had dwindled to one shift.
Not surprisingly, many autoworkers like Obama.
"He had our backs then," says Dave Green, president of UAW Local 1714 in Lordstown. "We have his back now."
"It was a courageous decision," says Jim McGowan, a 24-year GM veteran. "It was a risk because he didn't know what the outcome would be. ... I know there are a lot of people out there that don't like it. But the (government) loaned all the money to these banks and they were making all these crazy investments. With the auto loan, they were at least supporting workers and keeping good jobs in the community."
Still, there remain fierce opponents to the idea of using taxpayer dollars to help troubled companies.
"If they can't stand on their own, they don't deserve to be propped up," says Halter, the steel company CEO and Romney supporter. "Nobody propped up Toyota or Nissan. ... That was unfair. That was a political gift to the United Auto Workers. There's no way around it. I could care less whether General Motors goes away because there's somebody else there that's going to take their place."
The rescue does have one Republican booster: Randy Hunt, a lawyer, head of the Stark (Canton area) Development Board and owner of two small businesses, one an auto parts company.
Hunt says government is too big, too intrusive and spends too much money, but acknowledges from a "selfish standpoint" the bailout was a "great thing. ... The federal government needs to step in periodically to help the private sector."
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