STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Superstorm Sandy, as some people are calling it this morning, has become the main focus of both presidential candidates, inevitably. But what politicking remains is centered on Toledo. That's because last week, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stated that Chrysler-owned Jeep - which has a big plant in Toledo, Ohio - is considering moving all its production to China. That's what he said.

Chrysler and President Obama's reelection team say that's not true. And as NPR's David Welna reports, the dispute is now being played out on what's become the campaign's center stage, that state of Ohio.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: The auto industry is a touchy subject for Mitt Romney. Unlike President 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 one out of eight workers is in the auto industry, Romney's generally been on the defensive about opposing such a bailout. But last Thursday, Romney went on the offense in Defiance, Ohio, about an hour's drive from the big Jeep plant in Toledo.

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MITT ROMNEY: 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. I will fight for every good job in America. I'm going to fight to make sure trade is fair. And if it's fair, America will win.

WELNA: The story Romney referred to was a Bloomberg news report. But that story did not say Jeep would be moving all of its production to China. Rather, Chrysler was considering reviving its presence in China to make Jeeps for that market. Yesterday at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Vice President Joe Biden denounced Romney's claim about Jeep, calling it bizarre.

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VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's an absolutely, patently false assertion. 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. They said, Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China.

WELNA: Biden spoke one day after the Romney campaign began airing this new ad in Toledo.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians, who are going to build Jeeps in China.

WELNA: The ad, however, did not repeat Romney's original claim that Jeep's jobs were all going to China.

KEN LORTZ: He's done some clever wordsmithing, but the intent of the ad is completely dishonest.

WELNA: That's Ken Lortz, Ohio director for the United Auto Workers. In a conference call yesterday organized by the Obama reelection campaign, Lortz accused Romney of being willing to say or do anything to get elected.

LORTZ: Romney's campaign, going up with this ad, has only angered Ohioans even further. 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.

WELNA: It's a fight that team Obama clearly relishes, since 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.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: After Romney's false claim of Jeep outsourcing to China, Chrysler itself has refuted Romney's lie. The truth: Jeep is adding jobs in Ohio.

WELNA: 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.

David Welna, NPR News.

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