HILLIARD, Ohio -- President Obama ripped Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Friday for running a misleading TV ad implying that U.S. auto workers are going to lose their jobs because Chrysler is moving the production of Jeeps for Chinese consumers to China.
It's a move by the president to capitalize on what, tactically, appears to have been a strategy by Romney's campaign in Ohio that has backfired. Obama is planning to press the issue all day Friday at three campaign stops in Ohio, including a midday rally in Lima, where there are about 1,600 jobs at a local Ford manufacturing plant.
"Everybody knows it's not true," Obama said of Romney's ad to a crowd in a large barn at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, a crucial swing-section of this swing state.
Obama cited reports of auto workers in Ohio calling their employer to ask if their jobs were in jeopardy after seeing Romney's ad. Romney's ad is technically correct -- it says Chrysler is going to build Jeeps in China, which is true -- but it leaves the impression that the creation of jobs in China will cost U.S. auto workers their livelihood. Obama pointed out that Chrysler is in the process of hiring 1,000 new workers for a Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio.
"I understand that Gov. Romney's had a tough time here in Ohio because he was against saving the auto industry," Obama said. "And it's hard to run away from that position when you're on videotape saying the words, 'Let Detroit go bankrupt.'"
"And I know we're close to an election, but this isn't a game," Obama said. "These are people's jobs. These are people's lives … You don't scare hardworking Americans just to scare up some votes. That's not what being president is all about."
Obama's reference to Romney's Detroit comment stems from a TV interview in which Romney repeated the headline of a New York Times op-ed that he wrote, but which the newspaper headlined. Romney's campaign and others have disputed Obama's accusation that Romney was opposed to "saving" the auto industry. Romney proposed a different way of getting General Motors and Chrysler through a managed bankruptcy process, but said that the companies should be required to restructure and reform before receiving any federal help. The more substantive critique of Romney's position is that it would not have worked without a bridge loan from the government in late 2008 because there was no private financing available in the wake of the economic crisis.
In using the Romney ad, Obama came close to calling Romney a liar without actually using the word himself.
"Think about the issue of trust. Think about, do you want a president who's gonna actually tell you what he actually believes and what he thinks?" Obama said. "Or someone who's gonna, gonna, no, who's gonna, gonna, change the facts."
Obama's pause as he searched for a word to describe what Romney was doing allowed time for a crowd full of rowdy supporters to fill in the blanks. They yelled out, "Liar!" and "Lie!"
"After four years as president you know me. You may not agree with every decision I've made," Obama said. "But you know what I believe. You know where I stand. You know that I tell the truth."
Romney, after a morning speech in Milwaukee, Wis., was headed to Ohio himself, with rallies outside Columbus later and near Cincinnati at the end of the day.
Amanda Henneberg, a Romney spokeswoman, responded to Obama's statements later Friday.
"The facts are clear: despite his false and misleading attacks, President Obama took the auto companies into bankruptcy," Henneberg said in an emailed statement. "His mismanagement of the process has exposed taxpayers to a $25 billion loss. And these companies are expanding production overseas. Under President Obama, we have lost 586,000 manufacturing jobs and the unemployment rate is higher than when he took office. Mitt Romney has a plan to strengthen American manufacturing, create 12 million new jobs in America, and deliver a real recovery."
Romney has trailed Obama in statewide polls here, and badly needs to win Ohio to have a shot at the presidency.