President Barack Obama told voters in the battleground state of Ohio today that his administration filed a claim with the World Trade Organization against China, charging it with unfair tariffs on US autos, a welcome message in the US rust belt.
“Americans aren’t afraid to compete. We believe in competition,” Obama said while campaigning in Maumee, Ohio. “But we’re going to make sure competition is fair.”
The WTO complaint came as Obama began a two-day bus trip in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The “Betting on America” tour, as his campaign has dubbed it, runs through areas reliant on the auto industry. The label is designed to draw a contrast with presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a former private-equity executive whose business made investments overseas.
Romney’s experience “has been in owning companies that were called ‘pioneers of outsourcing,’” Obama said. “My experience has been in saving the American auto industry, and as long as I’m president, that’s what I’m gonna be doing.”
The duties in the WTO claim cover more than 80 percent of US auto exports to China including cars manufactured in the Ohio cities of Toledo and Marysville, Ohio, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One.
Carney said the WTO claim, the seventh such action against China taken by the administration, was “in development for quite a long time,” and that it was not politically driven.
Obama also spoke about the health-care law upheld last week by the Supreme Court. The affirmation means it’s time to put the acrimony behind and focus on its protections, he said.
“In America, nobody should go bankrupt because they get sick,” he said. “The law I passed is here to stay.”
Obama’s campaign spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told reporters that Romney was flip-flopping on whether the law’s penalty for those who don’t get insurance is a tax.
While Romney now says it’s a tax, he and his advisers previously described it as a penalty. Romney is “being impacted by the push from the right” including congressional Republicans and “the Rush Limbaughs of the world,” Psaki said, referring to the talk radio host.
Obama touched briefly on the health-care ruling later in the day at what the campaign said was an ice cream social in Sandusky, Ohio. He told a crowd of about 350 people that “we don’t need to re-argue the last two years.”
Standing inside a wooden gazebo wearing khaki slacks and a short-sleeve shirt, Obama said he favors investments in infrastructure and education and sought to distinguish that approach from his rival’s.
“We’ve got two fundamentally different visions in this election. Mr. Romney and his Republican allies in Congress” believe in “trickle-down” economics, including providing a $5 trillion tax cut for the rich, Obama said.
“Here’s the problem: We tried that,” Obama said. “Not only did it not work, it led to the worst financial crisis we’ve had in our lifetime.”
Polls show that linking Romney to the outsourcing of US jobs when he was at Boston-based Bain Capital LLC, which he co- founded, is an effective approach with voters in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Obama will end the trip.
“If the election’s about Romney and Bain, then the president’s going to win,” said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. “For Romney, it has to be about Obama: Obama and jobs, Obama and leadership, Obama and the economy, and Obama and health-care.”
The president may be shadowed on his trip by new data showing weakness in the US economic recovery. The Labor Department’s monthly jobs report, set for release tomorrow, is likely to show the US unemployment rate held steady at 8.2 percent, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. In May, the jobless rate rose to the 8.2 percent figure from 8.1 percent in April.
Ohio and Pennsylvania, both of which Obama won in 2008, have a combined 38 electoral votes in this year’s election. Since filing for re-election in April 2011, Obama has visited Ohio nine times and Pennsylvania eight times.
During his tour, Obama was stopping in small towns including Maumee and Sandusky in northern Ohio before entering Pennsylvania. He will cap off the trip at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Paul Beck, a professor of political science at Ohio State University, said the president’s decision to visit counties he won in 2008 shows that he’s not taking anything for granted.
“It’s going to be a very close contest here and when you have that kind of focus you have two battlegrounds: independent voters and you need to make sure that you squeeze every vote out of your core constituency that you can,” Beck said.
Romney’s campaign also recognizes the electoral importance of winning in Ohio and Pennsylvania. His events in the region have included a speech in Cincinnati on June 14, the same day Obama was speaking across the state in Cleveland. A trip in early May that officially began Obama’s re-election bid included a stop in Columbus, Ohio’s capital.
The Ohio Republican Party plans to capitalize on what it calls apathy among Democrats and an eagerness among Republicans to mobilize to defeat Obama.
“From his underwhelming stop in Cleveland last month, to his absolute flop of a campaign kickoff in Columbus, Ohioans are showing over and over again that they have had enough of Barack Obama’s failed economic policies and repetitive, empty rhetoric,” said Ohio Republican Party spokeswoman Izzy Santa.
Obama led Romney by nine percentage points in Ohio and six in Pennsylvania, according to a “Swing State Poll” conducted June 19-25 by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University. The poll of 1,237 Ohio voters and 1,252 Pennsylvania voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent. In 2008, Obama beat Republican John McCain in Ohio by five percentage points and in Pennsylvania by 11.
Still, Obama lost the 2008 Democratic primaries to Hillary Clinton in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Republican George W. Bush won Ohio in 2000 and 2004.
Beck said many white middle-class voters in the region don’t feel loyal to Obama and some still have trouble voting for a black president. “While most people have gotten beyond racial prejudice, it still exists there and it’s something Obama will have to work against,” he said.
If the economic data “is suggesting economic problems ahead and slowdown, the harder it will be to keep the focus on Romney,” putting Ohio at risk for Obama, Rothenberg said.
Raymond Millard, a lifelong Democrat who said he voted for Obama in 2008, sat at the bar as the president stopped today at Ziggy’s Pub and Restaurant in Amherst, Ohio. Millard, an Amherst resident, said he’s not sure he’ll vote for Obama again, adding that he had to take a pay cut during the recession.
“I’m not disappointed in him particularly just in the way things are,” Millard said, adding that he’s disappointed with Democrats and Republicans. “It seems like there’s a lot of fighting and arguing” on both sides.
Ohio’s economy has been recovering faster than most of the country. It ranks sixth in improving economic health in the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States from the first quarter of 2011 through the first quarter of this year, the most recent data available. The unemployment rate in Ohio was 7.3 percent in May, lower than the national rate of 8.2 percent for that month and down from a high of 10.6 percent from July 2009 through Jan. 2010.
The Obama campaign started airing a television ad July 3 in nine states including Ohio and Pennsylvania that says Romney’s team at Bain “were pioneers in outsourcing US jobs to low- wage countries.” The ad says Obama “believes in insourcing” and “fought to save the US auto industry.”
Through July 2, the campaign aired two ads 504 times on stations that reach Ohio voters, blaming Romney and Bain Capital for job losses at a steel company. Another ad from the Obama campaign, citing a Washington Post article that Bain sent jobs overseas, was run 247 times on stations that reach Ohio voters beginning June 27 through July 2, according to data from Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks campaign advertising.
Priorities USA Action, the super-political action committee backing Obama, has produced four television ads that have run 2,357 times in Ohio; three of those ads also either ran or are running in Pennsylvania 2,591 times.