Instead, in this deeply conservative corner of the state not far from the Indiana border, the billboard — and two others posted in town — have proved highly controversial.
For Democrats, this may be the town President Obama helped save with the auto bailout. But, in a twist, Defiance and places like it could end up saving Mitt Romney in all-important Ohio.
That’s because Obama won Ohio four years ago in part by peeling off support in Republican-leaning parts of the state such as Defiance. Now, Romney is making a play to get those voters back, hoping that, here on the brightening side of the recession, the election is not all about the economy, and that juiced GOP turnout might swing a state that no Republican president has ever lost.
Romney has made Ohio a particular focus since the first debate — he or vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan have appeared at 14 events since then.
He is talking to Ohioans such as Defiance city manager Jeffrey Leonard, who voted for Obama in 2008 but now says he is “very disappointed” in the president and undecided about his vote.
Leonard said he understands intimately what the loss of the GM plant would have meant for his city. But he does not believe the government should be in the business of protecting private executives from their own mistakes. “Guess what. When you have poor management, you should accept the consequences,” he said. “No exceptions for GM. No exceptions.”
The government’s bailout of GM and Chrysler has generally proved popular in Ohio, where one in eight jobs is connected to the auto industry.
On Friday, Obama began airing an Ohio ad in which auto workers talk about how they would have been affected had GM gone under, declaring that Romney, who opposed government aid for the industry, is “not one of us.”
The bailout has been a staple of Obama’s campaign in the state and one reason his poll numbers have remained more solid in the Buckeye State than other battlegrounds where support has slid in recent days.
But in this town that has been arguably helped by GM’s recent resurgence more than anywhere else in Ohio, even Obama’s most ardent supporters fear the bailout cannot puncture hardened partisan divisions and stop Romney’s march.
“People’s attitudes have become very firm,” said Joseph O’Neil, who joined his law partner and their wives to design and fund the billboards. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s very hard to change.”
‘If it wasn’t for the bailout’
For many of GM’s workers in Defiance, the company’s turnaround has meant a personal turnaround as well.
“There are guys in there working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a lot of overtime in there,” said Chris Mendez, 37, a GM electrician laid off for nearly 10 months in 2009 and now back on the job.