By Keith Laing
The road for President Obama's victory in Ohio in Tuesday's election was paved in large part by the $80 billion bailout of the U.S. auto industry.
The bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler were first initiated under former President George W. Bush. But Obama hammered Republican nominee Mitt Romney for his opposition to the loans for the duration of their contentious campaign.
AFL-CIO Ohio spokesman Mike Gillis said Wednesday that the criticism proved decisive in Obama's 50 percent to 48 percent victory in the swing state.
"Look at the map and you see a solid line blue of counties in the northern tier of the state," Gillis said. "Ranging from Toledo to Cleveland to Youngstown, there are a lot of auto folks there."
For their part, Republicans were wistful about the auto bailout's impact on the campaign in Ohio on Wednesday. They were also very sharply critical of Romney's response to Democratic attacks on the issue.
"He could have done an ad with Clint Eastwood, he could have cut an ad using footage of his dad, he could have not run that stupid ad on Jeeps being built in China, he could have come up with a better answer in the second debate (or not said anything)," Republican strategist John Feehery said in response to question about what Romney could have done differently in the Buckeye State.
Feehery, who is also a contributor to The Hill, said Romney "could have done any number of things" to change the dynamics in Oho.
"But as it turned out, he
didn't do much at all," Feehery said.
Before Tuesday's election, the AFL-CIO's Gillis attributed Obama's edge in Ohio to three factors, ranked in order: "One, autos, two, China, three, workers' rights."
He said Wednesday that the election returns confirmed his theory.
"They served to define Romney as a candidate and define what he would do as president," Gillis said of his issue list.
Democrats reminded Ohio voters at every opportunity of Romney's 2008 op-ed arguing against the bailout that was titled "Let Detroit go bankrupt." The article was written on Nov. 18, 2008, a full two months before Obama took office.
As the Democratic attacks on the article mounted, Romney supporters argued that the Obama campaign was misrepresenting the former governor's position on the issue. Romney preferred a "managed bankruptcy" for the auto companies, they said, and they pointed out that the former governor did not write the infamous headline.
Democrats argued that only the federal government had enough money to provide the necessary loans to the car companies in 2008, however, which Romney opposed. Beyond the headline of Romney's article, they seized on the first line of the widely read op-ed, which read: "If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye."
Exit polls after Tuesday's election showed nearly 60 percent of Ohio voters favored the loans to GM and Chrysler. Of those voters, approximately 75 president said they cast ballots for Obama in Tuesday's election.
In the final week of the Ohio campaign, Romney tried to push back on Obama's auto attacks by arguing that the car companies were moving production of their vehicles overseas. Democrats responded fiercely, arguing Romney's claims were untrue, and Chrysler and General Motors stepped in to say they were building cars in China for Chinese customers.
United Auto Workers union president Bob King said the blowback on ads Romney aired in the final week in Toledo containing the autos-to-China claim came back to bite the former Massachusetts governor when Ohio's election returns came in.
"They really hurt his credibility," King said said of Romney's controversial radio and TV commercials. "Our membership was really angry that he put the brand image of their companies at stake by doing that."
King said the auto bailout played a "big role, not just with UAW members, but with the public" in Ohio and other midwestern states.
As polls showed Romney trailing in Ohio late in the election, his campaign suggested that the former governor would expand the electoral map by contesting traditionally Democratic states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
Romney lost all three states by an average of more than 7 points.