PERRYSBURG, Ohio — For more than 35 years, Earl Danforth worked as a tool engineer at a GM plant in Toledo, the kind of plant the Obama administration’s auto bailout is supposed to have rescued.
It’s not that Danforth’s undecided. (“As far as I’m concerned, Obama’s nothing but a liar, a cheater,” he said.) It’s that Danforth hasn’t voted yet. And that makes him a prized target for Romney in a state where public polls show the GOP nominee is likely to lose among voters who cast their ballots before Election Day. Romney will need every supporter like Danforth to head to the polls Tuesday to make up the difference.
So in an area heavily reliant on the auto business, and where Republicans may be tired of hearing that President Obama saved the industry, the ads could provide one last bit of encouragement to Romney supporters such as Danforth to make it out next week.
“I see this more as a turnout game than a persuasion ad,” said Patrick Haney, a political science professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “I take it as an indication that they believe they’re behind. . . . So they might as well be a little riskier and on the edge.”
That catch-up urgency may explain why Romney has undertaken a potentially risky strategy with the ads, which indicate that General Motors and Chrysler are expanding in China and may leave some Ohioans with the impression that U.S. jobs, including at Toledo-based Jeep, are moving there. Democrats have attacked the ads as untrue, and independent analysts, including The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, have criticized them as, at the least, misleading.
Romney aides say they are confident their candidate has momentum and will win Ohio. They say the wording of the ads is accurate and provides important context on an issue Obama has run on for months.
But the potential peril of the ads for Romney was made clear Tuesday, when top executives at Chrysler and GM took the rare move of publicly weighing in. Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne sent his employees an e-mail saying that Jeep will remain in the United States and that it is “inaccurate to suggest anything different.”
A top GM spokesman said that the campaign had entered “some parallel universe” and that only “politics at its cynical worst” would undercut the company’s record of U.S. job creation.
That could hurt Romney not just in Ohio, where one in eight jobs is linked to the auto industry, but also in Michigan, where Romney has been trying to make inroads.
Democrats have pounced on the corporate critique of Romney, who has run as a friend of business.
In Florida on Wednesday, Vice President Biden offered Democrats’ harshest response yet to the ads, calling them “scurrilous” and “flagrantly dishonest,” an attempt to falsely convince workers that they might lose their jobs.
“They’re trying to scare the living devil out of a group of people who have been hurt so badly over the last — the previous four years before we came to office,” he said in Sarasota. “What a cynical, cynical thing to do.”