In Ohio, China's A Top Campaigning Point

The Obama administration recently filed a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile the two campaigns are having an ad war in Ohio over Chinese trade. Part of the reason is that Ohio's manufacturing industry — especially for autos — is firing on all cylinders.

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According to Bloomberg, President Obama and Mitt Romney have aired nearly 30,000 TV spots addressing the issue of trade with China, and that's just in the past month. Many of those ads aired in Ohio where both candidates are spending a lot of time. NPR's Sonari Glinton explains the Ohio-China nexus.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: If there's a boogeyman in the Ohio presidential sweepstakes, it's China.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: China is stealing American ideas and technology, everything from computers to fighter jets. Seven times, Obama could have taken action. Seven times, he said no.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Mitt Romney, tough on China? Romney's companies were called pioneers in shipping U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas. He invested in firms that specialized in relocating jobs to low-wage countries like China.

GLINTON: Ohio is third only to California and Texas when it comes to manufacturing. The state produces cars, steel, washing machines, even footballs. The Obama administration in the last several months filed complaints with the World Trade Organization against China. The complaint involved two of Ohio's biggest exports: car parts and tires. When visiting Ohio, both sides used their stump speeches to hammer hard against that country. Here's Mitt Romney from earlier this week.

MITT ROMNEY: I understand that when we trade and when other nations trade on a fair basis, we will compete, we will win, we'll raise wages here, we'll create jobs. But I also understand that when people cheat, that kills jobs. China has cheated. I will not allow that to continue.

GLINTON: And the president.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When you hear his newfound outrage, when you see those ads he's running promising to get tough on China, you know, it's sort of like the fox standing up and saying, you know, we need to keep the chicken coops more secure.

GLINTON: Larry Anderson is from Franklin County, right outside of Columbus.

LARRY ANDERSON: It's a struggle today for young people to find a good employment, unless you want to work minimum wage. And a lot of that, even minimum wage jobs are hard to find.

GLINTON: Anderson says, Chinese trade is probably the most important issue in this election.

ANDERSON: The United States has a lot of stuff that is made in China that can be made here in this country and create jobs.

GLINTON: Jobs and new ones have been created in Ohio. Much of the auto industry that's here is under 30 years old. Out among the soybeans and cornfields is Jefferson Industries Corporation. They make auto body parts for Honda. Hassan Saadat says the key for his company is that everything is very, very fast.

HASSAN SAADAT: So what we make at 6:00 in the morning, by noontime is being shipped to Honda. Then by 4:00 in the afternoon, Honda is using it in their operation.

GLINTON: So this is going to be in a car tomorrow.

SAADAT: It is going to be in a car this evening. Absolutely. That's how our practice goes.

GLINTON: This is manufacturing in Ohio. Much of it is very new and global. And perhaps because of this, many Ohioans still are very wary of the permanence of manufacturing.

BRAD WHITEHEAD: Over the course of several decades, Ohio and northeast Ohio experienced a lot of pain in the manufacturing sector as we shed tens of thousands of jobs. Many of those went overseas.

GLINTON: Brad Whitehead is with Fund Our Economic Future, a nonprofit that tries to stimulate economic development. He says there's been a lot of new growth in manufacturing and foreign investment.

WHITEHEAD: And so it's understandable if people are feeling like these early gains are promising, but that they may be vulnerable.

GLINTON: This feeling of vulnerability is what both candidates are looking to tap, says Paul Beck, a political scientist at the Ohio State University, especially, he says, among white working class voters who've seen jobs go away.

PAUL BECK: And they recognize that those days are gone and they, I think, are skeptical about whether any politicians are going to solve those problems. But they're especially skeptical, I think, about a Romney or an Obama.

GLINTON: Beck says that skepticism will keep many undecided for a while. That means more ads and more talks of China. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Columbus.

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