(NEW YORK) — A TV ad from Republican nominee Mitt Romney has prompted spirited objections from independent fact-checkers and Democrats for suggesting, just days before the election, that automaker Chrysler is moving Jeep production out of Ohio to China.
“Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China,” the Romney ad says. “Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”
The ad appeared to be an attempt by Romney to undercut Obama’s appeal among those voters who had been grateful for the controversial 2009 auto bailout, warning that some of the region’s auto jobs could be moved or created overseas.
The spot came out days before a Bloomberg Businessweek story published Monday that said Jeep production may very well be moving. After the auto bailout, the Treasury Department sold its share of Chrysler to Italian automaker Fiat at a loss, and now according to the article, as an attempt to boost Fiat’s bottom line, the company floated a possible plan to build Jeeps elsewhere — for export to the U.S.
The ad, which began airing without announcement in northwest Ohio markets last weekend, followed a similar claim by Romney at a rally in Defiance, Ohio.
“I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers of this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China,” Romney said on Oct. 25.
Fiat, the Italian parent company of Chrysler and Jeep, has said flatly that Romney’s claims are “unnecessary fantasies and extravagant comments.”
“Let’s set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China. It’s simply reviewing the opportunities to return Jeep output to China for the world’s largest auto market,” said spokesman Gualberto Ranieri in a blog post Thursday. “U.S. Jeep assembly lines will continue to stay in operation.”
The Obama campaign has been on an all-out offensive over the ad, calling it a sign of “desperation” in Ohio, where Romney has yet to hold a lead in any public poll.
“It’s a big deal, a really big deal in northwest Ohio that he said this,” Obama for America press secretary for Ohio Jessica Kershaw told ABC News. “It was a shot across the bow to all those people there to say your jobs are leaving to go to China. … So dishonest and desperate. This is the end for him.”
“The fact that Romney decided to run this ad tells you a lot about him and a lot about where he stands in Ohio,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters Monday. The latest Real Clear Politics polling average shows Obama with a nearly two-percentage-point lead there over Romney, 48.6 to 46.7 percent.
Team Obama countered Romney Monday with a new TV spot of its own in Ohio. “Collapse” accuses the GOP nominee of pushing a “lie,” noting that Jeep is actually adding jobs in the state.
“Mitt Romney on Ohio jobs? Wrong then,” the ad says, referring to Romney’s opposition to a federal bailout of GM and Chrysler. “Dishonest now.”
The Romney campaign insists the wording of its ad is accurate in the literal sense, given the automaker’s plans to “build Jeeps in China.”
“The ad makes the point that the governor believes that we need a strong auto industry and that he’d have a better policy that would help the auto industry be a strong part of a growing American economy. And the ad speaks for itself,” Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told reporters.
Aides said that Romney’s comments at the Defiance rally — claiming the company was “thinking of moving all production to China” — was based on an early version of a Bloomberg News story he had read that was subsequently updated. The story, published Oct. 22, was headlined: “Fiat Says Jeep Output May Return to China as Demand Rises.”
The original piece unambiguously explains, however, that “Chrysler currently builds all Jeep SUV models at plants in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. Manley (President and CEO of the Jeep brand) referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio