Toledo Ohio's bailed-out auto workers back Obama
Did Barack Obama save the US auto industry? That's what he'd like voters in Tuesday's presidential poll to think. The sector is one of the bright spots of the American economy these days. But Obama's Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, is painting a gloomy picture of a flagging economy and outsourced jobs. In Toledo, north-west Ohio, auto workers are convinced that Obama saved their jobs.
Toledo is car territory, at least auto workers see it that way.
"Toledo is the Jeep Wrangler. It started here," says Matt Upley, who makes Jeep Wrangler chassis for Mobis North America, which employs 700 people here in Toledo.
The Jeep Wrangler is an SUV manufactured by Chrysler at a plant in Toledo that employs 1,900 people. And they are not the only ones in town.
"Ford, GM, Chrysler, Jeep they're all out here in Toledo," says Upley. "Everybody is affiliated with the auto industry here."
He is one of about 300 people who turned up Thursday at the local United Auto Workers (UAW) union hall for a rally for Sherrod Brown, the incumbent Democratic Senate candidate.
You would be hard-pressed to find any undecided voters among the unionised auto workers here. Toledo is the seat of Lucas county, which traditionally votes Democratic.
At the rally, UAW leaders and candidates encourage people to get their friends and neighbours to the polls.
"Let's turn out the vote," exorted Ken Lortz, the UAW's regional director for Ohio and Indiana.
For him the 2009 bailout of US car companies orchestrated by Obama is the reason the industry still exists here, though he does not like the term bailout.
"I prefer to refer to them as loans, because the auto-makers are paying those back," he explains. "It's similar to when I bought my house: I went to the bank, I got a loan, I paid it back. The bank did not bail me out. They offered me a helping hand."
Without that helping hand, he says, the car industry and people it employs in Ohio would be in trouble.
Obama, therefore, has a lot of support here among people who believe he saved their jobs. But the bailout is not the only reason they are voting for him.
Many here, like Marsha Hill, a production operator at Jeep, say they support the Democratic Party "because historically they support the middle class".
Hill has been working for Jeep for 29 years and remembers the bailout in 2009. But she was not worried.
"I really wasn't scared. They could not let us fall," she says. "America would have sunk if they would have let us go under. When Toledo Jeep goes down, everybody is hurting in the community, because we're not there."
This echoes the message pushed at the rally.
UAW national president Bill King told the crowd that "the barber, the beauty shop, the attorney, the dentist, the doctor, the restaurant owners" benefit when auto workers are employed.
Throughout this campaign Republicans have been trying to show that the bailout actually hurt American jobs.
In the latest round of political ads, the Romney campaign claims that Jeep sent jobs to China. The Obama campaign and Chrysler itself have refuted this.
Chrysler does have a plant in China but Bill King says it will be making Chinese cars for the Chinese market.
"The US jobs are staying here," he told RFI, adding that investing in China is good for American jobs.
"We want the companies we work with to be diversified. I know when I had responsibility for Ford, we were going through the rough times, if it wasn't for the profitability of Europe at that point, Ford might not have survived the difficult times. So you want a company that's diversified globally. I want Chrysler to have a presence in China, as Ford and General Motors do. That gives more stability for the corporation."
Of course, Toledo's auto workers are only a portion of the tens of thousands of voters in this part of Ohio. Democrats might be able to count on their support but the rest are up for grabs.
Angela Zimmann knows this well.
She is the Democratic congressional candidate for district that includes Toledo, a district that was redrawn since the last election and is now made up of half of a previously Republican district and half of one that was Democratic.
"Our race is a 50/50 split," she says. "It's a very competitive, closely watched race."
The car bailout is a big draw for Democrats, she says, but there are other issues.
"Right now jobs and the economy are the number one issue and the number one concern for folks."