J.D. Pooley/Getty Images
A worker installs carpet into a Jeep Liberty at the Toledo Assembly Complex in Toledo, Ohio, in 2011.
A worker installs carpet into a Jeep Liberty at the Toledo Assembly Complex in Toledo, Ohio, in 2011. J.D. Pooley/Getty Images
The impact of Superstorm Sandy has become the main focus of both presidential candidates, but what politicking does remain has Toledo, Ohio, at its center.
That's because last week GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stated that Chrysler-owned Jeep, which has a big plant in Toledo, is considering moving all its production to China.
Chrysler and President Obama's re-election team say that's just not true, and the dispute is now being played out on what's become the campaign's center stage: the state of Ohio.
The auto industry is a touchy subject for Romney — unlike Obama, he opposed lending any public funds to help GM and Chrysler make it through bankruptcy, even though private banks refused to lend them any money.
As the two men battle to win all-important Ohio, where 1 out of 8 workers is in the auto industry, Romney has generally been on the defensive about opposing a bailout. But last Thursday, Romney went on the offensive in Defiance, Ohio, about an hour's drive from the big Jeep plant in Toledo.
"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," he said.
The story Romney referred to was a Bloomberg News report. But that story did not say Jeep would be moving all its production to China — rather, Chrysler was considering reviving its presence in China to make Jeeps for that market.
At a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden denounced Romney's claim about Jeep, calling it "bizarre."
"It's an absolutely patently false assertion," Biden said. "It's such an outrageous assertion that one of the few times in my memory, a major American corporation, Chrysler, has felt obliged to go public and say there is no truth [in this]. They said Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China."
Biden spoke a day after the Romney campaign began airing a new ad in Toledo that says: "Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China."
The ad, however, did not repeat Romney's original claim that all of Jeep's jobs may be going to China.
"He's done some clever wordsmithing, but the intent of the ad is completely dishonest," said Ken Lortz, Ohio director for the United Auto Workers. In a conference call Monday organized by the Obama re-election campaign, Lortz accused Romney of being willing to say or do anything to get elected.
"Romney's campaign going up with this ad has only angered Ohioans even further," he said. "We knew he wasn't on our side when the economy and the industry were on the brink, but the fact that he would lie to our faces and try to deceive us is just too much."
It's a fight that Team Obama clearly relishes because it centers on autoworkers and their jobs in Ohio. Before the day was over, the president's campaign was up with a new ad of its own.
"After Romney's false claim of Jeep outsourcing to China, Chrysler itself has refuted Romney's lie," the ad says. "The truth: Jeep is adding jobs in Ohio."
Jeep is indeed planning to invest half a billion dollars in expanding its facilities in Toledo, which is expected to add another 1,100 jobs to Ohio's economy. There was no immediate response from the Romney campaign to a request for comment.