As President Obama headed to Ohio Wednesday, Mitt Romney's campaign released a new ad blaming the president for job losses during the auto bailout of 2009.
"In 2009, under the Obama Administration's bailout of General Motors, Ohio dealerships were forced to close," the ad says, telling the story of an Ohio auto dealer who had to let 30 employees go.
It's not clear if the ad will actually air on TV in Ohio. A Romney campaign spokeswoman did not respond to an e-mail asking whether they planned to put any money behind the ad, and the narrator used in the spot is more often used in videos distributed only to the web.
But the ad provoked an unusual response from the Obama campaign. A spokesman at the Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago, having seen the ad, sent out a preemptive statement to the press a little after midnight on Wednesday morning -- about five hours before the Romney campaign sent the ad out to its own press list.
"Let's get this straight -- the very person who argued for the US auto industry to go bankrupt, something that would have caused more than a million jobs lost and utter economic devastation in the midwest, is now trying to attack the President on how it was handled? This ad in Ohio is a new low for the Romney campaign," said Obama spokesman Frank Benenati.
"Instead of trying to deceive Ohioans they should get their facts straight because there are now 2,200 more Ohioans employed in dealerships than when the President took office," Benenati said. "While the President was busy saving the US auto industry -– which has 1 in 8 Ohio jobs tied to it –- Mitt Romney was busy arguing that we should turn our backs on an iconic industry and the workers in Ohio."
Romney has been tagged again and again with the fact that a New York Times op-ed he wrote about the auto bailouts in 2008 was headlined -- he says by the Times editorial page -- "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
The substantive criticism of Romney's position at the time is that he was arguing that President George W. Bush give no financial assistance to the Big Three auto makers in late 2008, during the height of the financial crisis. Romney's strict no bailout stance, according even to Bush administration officials, ignored the fact that there was no private capital during the crisis to help the car companies avoid insolvency.
The auto bailouts initiated by Bush and then carried into 2009, defenders say, were a bridge to help General Motors and Chrysler enter into a structured bankruptcy that led to a reorganization but did not bring down the entire industry in one catastrophic event (Ford did not go bankrupt).
It is a fact that jobs were lost under the Obama administration's overseeing of the bailout-backed reorganization of GM and Chrysler. In fact, former bailout Inspector General Neil Barofsky issued a report in 2010 that said the White House caused the loss of more jobs than was necessary.
But it's also a fact that the car industry has recovered. According to estimates, over a million jobs were saved by the bailout, the auto industry has added 240,000 jobs since then and all of the Big Three were profitable in 2011 for the first time in seven years.
However, the reality that some jobs were cut to save others under the Obama administration's process is ironic since Democrats have blamed Romney for the elimination of jobs when he oversaw the restructuring of companies during his career in private equity.
It's a tricky prospect for the Romney campaign to argue that Obama did the same thing Romney did. They might not, given their risk-averse nature, bring the argument full circle. But they may begin hitting more regularly on the simple fact that job losses did occur under the auto bailouts.