This election may come down to cars. That's right, cars.
Nothing illustrates the choice between the two presidential candidates better than the 2009 rescue of the auto industry. And, despite Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's efforts to distort the contrast with patently dishonest claims and a new TV and radio ad, the auto rescue may turn out to be the deciding factor in the presidential election.
Romney can't seem to Etch-a-Sketch that now-famous op-ed headline -- "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
Let's break down what that meant: Here was a millionaire whose idea of remaking America's automakers was liquidation. It was a call for those companies to gut pay and benefits and shed pensions. That's what Mitt Romney believed in. His goal was to "turn around" the industry by killing good jobs.
Try as he might, Romney can't shake his past, and nowhere is that more clear than in voters' reactions in Ohio, where the auto industry accounts for one out of eight jobs. There voters have stuck with President Obama after he stuck his neck out to rescue those ailing giants and the workers, who together form America's cornerstone industry.
Because of President Obama's action, the U.S. auto industry was not liquidated. Two million jobs or more were not lost or ruined.
Yes, President Obama took a big political risk -- the public had serious bailout fatigue.
Back in 2008 and 2009, pundits and reporters from Fox News to the New York Times called the auto industry rescue a "strategy fraught with risk."
It wasn't the only time President Obama took action and risks for working people, and I'll bet it won't be the last. And I'll also bet that Romney's reaction to crises for working people will be the same in the future, too. When President Obama enforced our trade laws, imposing tariffs on cheap Chinese tires to protect American jobs, Mitt Romney leaped in to criticize him.
Expecting Mitt Romney to get tough on China is like asking his left hand to slap his right.
Ohio knows we need a president who makes job creation his No. 1 priority -- and we need those jobs in the United States, not in other countries.
Few politicians today are courageous enough to stand with teachers and construction workers and other regular folks against the wails of Wall Street and the advice of CEOs like Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney wants us on the low road to jobs -- outsourcing all the good ones until even the minimum wage seems high.
Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, called him "a car guy." That's hard to understand, but what is clear is that Romney is not a jobs guy.
And it matters. Regardless of what Romney does, no matter how much he spends, a core of critical voters sees him for what he is, a one-percenter who has written them off.
Ohio gets it. In January, Ohio voters told Quinnipiac pollsters they favored President Obama over Mitt Romney by 46 percent to 44 percent, and Obama has held a dogged lead in Ohio ever since, even though Romney has closed the gap in national polls.
Mitt Romney desperately needs the Buckeye State's 18 electoral votes to win the White House. He's been barnstorming the state for months, and now he's gone into overdrive.
And that fact -- the truth that Ohio voters have stubbornly stuck with Obama -- should teach every elected leader one simple but important lesson: Whoever does right by regular working people will gain tremendous and lasting political momentum.
I hope every elected leader sees this lesson for what it is -- the surest way to political success is building a secure ladder to the middle class for all.
Follow @Richard Trumka and @AFLCIO on Twitter.
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