Biden touts auto bailout in Ohio

TOLEDO — From here to Detroit to Cleveland to Youngstown, voters again and again over the next seven months will see President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden taking bows in auto plants and union halls for keeping them alive.

Obama was hailed as a job-savior by workers at Toledo’s sprawling Jeep plant on June 3, and yesterday, Biden was cheered by 500 at United Auto Workers Local 12’s hall not far from Jeep, this city’s venerable nameplate.

The $62 billion 2009 federal bailout of Chrysler and General Motors is roundly credited by workers here and in other industrial towns as having saved their jobs, and Team Obama hopes to cash in that good will for votes.

“If not for the bailout, it would be devastating, and not just for workers in the auto plants,” Ken Lortz, leader of 210,000 active and retired UAW members in Ohio and Indiana, said after Biden’s speech.

“Ohio is the No. 2 state for auto-parts suppliers. If (Chrysler or GM) would’ve gone down, the ripple effect through the supplier industry also would have been devastating.”

Biden, who describes himself as a blue-collar guy from Scranton, Pa., kicked off the Obama re-election campaign before a friendly Toledo audience, the first of four events over the next several weeks aimed at framing the pitch to middle-class voters. Biden’s next event, on Thursday in the Palm Beach, Fla., area, will focus on Social Security and Medicare, a campaign aide said.

Biden wasted no time finding the sweet spot in his 15-minute speech at the UAW hall, saying Obama “didn’t flinch” in deciding to bail out Chrysler and GM.

“He knew rescuing the industry wasn’t popular,” Biden said. “He knew he was taking a chance. But he believed. He said, ‘We are not going to give up on a million jobs, and the iconic industry America invented. Not without a fight.’  ”

As a result of the government aid and large-scale restructuring, Chrysler and GM emerged from bankruptcy in June 2009, invested more than $8 billion in their U.S. facilities, and added 217,000 jobs.

Nearly 120,000 Ohioans are employed in auto plants, and 848,000 workers in the state have jobs either directly or indirectly related to the auto industry.

All four of the Republican presidential candidates opposed the auto bailout, but the Obama campaign has zeroed in on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for advocating against it in a New York Times op-ed piece that was headlined, “Let Detroit go bankrupt.”

In a late February interview with The Dispatch, Romney didn’t back away from his criticism of the bailout, but he acknowledged that “there’s no question” that the headline, which he did not write, has hurt his campaign.

Romney said in the interview that Chrysler and GM “needed to go through a managed bankruptcy, and then, if government help was needed, it should be provided. I say loan guarantees and warranty guarantees could be provided after the companies went through a managed bankruptcy. And yet, no one wants to get into the facts; they just want to look at the headline, which is not what I wrote.”

Biden, pointing to today’s robust U.S. auto industry as vindication for “the tough call” Obama made, drew cheers from the UAW crowd when he said: “And the verdict is in: President Obama was right, and his critics were dead wrong.”

That sentiment was shared through the union hall. Marv Machinski, 68, who retired from Jeep after 38 years, credited Obama with saving jobs at the plant.

Brooks Hardison, 72, who retired 11 years ago from Jeep after working there for 32 years, said that both Chrysler and Jeep “would’ve gone belly up” without the bailout.

“What it did,” he said, “was put food on our tables and pay the mortgage and keep the heat on in the house — everything you need for a decent life.”

Republican National Committee regional press secretary Ryan Mahoney was critical of the Democrats.

“With broken promises mounting and food and gas prices soaring, President Obama and Vice President Biden know they’re in trouble in Ohio, and that’s why they continue to hide behind friendly union audiences,” Mahoney said, contending that “Ohioans remain worse off than they were when Barack Obama took office.”

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