TOLEDO, Ohio — As his allies in Big Labor savaged Republican nominee Mitt Romney, President Obama told a heavily union crowd in this auto-manufacturing city Monday that he saved the industry while Mr. Romney would have allowed it to collapse.
"When the auto industry was flat-lining, what was in Gov. Romney's playbook was to let Detroit go bankrupt," Mr. Obama told about 3,100 supporters at a high school gymnasium. "You would have been benched for good. We weren't going to give up on your jobs. I stood with American workers. Three years later, that bet is paying off for America."
The president is on a four-state campaign swing through battleground states on his way to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., where he will arrive Wednesday. Mr. Obama has visited Iowa, Colorado and Ohio on this trip, with a trip to Norfolk, Va., set for Tuesday.
Ohio is one of the most hotly contested states in the race — no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio — and Mr. Obama is playing heavily on his bailout of the auto industry to win here. The president mocked Mr. Romney with football analogies, playing on the Republican's comment in Ohio last weekend that America needs a new coach.
"He said he's going to be the coach that leads America to a winning season," Mr. Obama said. "The problem is, everybody's already seen his playbook."
On first down, Mr. Obama said, Mr. Romney "hikes taxes," although the president fumbled the delivery of his line.
On second down, he said, Mr. Romney "calls an audible and undoes reforms that are there to prevent another financial crisis and bank bailout."
On third down, "he calls for a Hail Mary — ending Medicare as we know it," Mr. Obama said.
He told Ohioans of the Romney-Ryan plan, "Punt it away. You don't need that coach. That's a losing season."
Mr. Obama got an assist on Labor Day from union officials who deployed some of the most heated rhetoric of the campaign. Speaker after speaker preceding the president at the rally blasted Mr. Romney, with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka suggesting that the Republican is exploiting racial and social divisions in the campaign.
"The Republican candidate for president has decided to target people like you and me," Mr. Trumka told the crowd. "He wants to target us with ads and with mail that make sly appeals to ugly, ugly emotions and social divisions. His goal is to pit the American people against each other, so we won't vote. What he's doing is beneath the dignity of the American people, and we won't let him win. It's time that we take a stand against intolerance, and for American values."
An official from the Republican National Committee responded that it sounded as if Mr. Trumka "is talking about President Obama's campaign."
"While the Romney-Ryan ticket have put together solutions to problems like jobs, Medicare and our debt, President Obama still hasn't explained why he deserves another four years," said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kirkowski. "His campaign continues to say our country is better off despite 7 in 10 Americans who disagree. Can we trust a president who thinks 23 million Americans struggling under our economy and 42 straight months of unemployment over 8 percent is better off?"
Bob King, president of the United Auto Workers, said at the Toledo rally that Mr. Romney would be an enemy of union workers if he's elected president.
"If you have not read the Republican platform, read it," Mr. King told the audience. "It is the most reactionary, right-wing platform in the history of the Republican Party. They'll do a national attack on collective-bargaining rights and the rights to be in unions, and the rights to negotiate strong contracts for our membership."
Mr. Obama, too, attacked Mr. Romney and the Republican Party as plotting to take away workers' rights, and he defended the auto bailout.
"Their plan says the best way to help work is to turn back workers' rights," Mr. Obama said. "When they're trying to take your collective-bargaining rights way, when they're trying to pass so-called right-to-work laws that really mean 'right to work for less and less,' you should know this isn't about economics, this is about politics. I don't understand why they have the nerve to talk about you like you're some greedy special interest that needs to be beaten down."
Of the auto bailout, Mr. Obama said he did the right thing, and ridiculed Republicans' objections to it.
"They're saying you made out like bandits," the president told union workers, "and that we did what we did because it was all about paying back unions. Really? Even by the standards of political campaigns, that's a lot of you-know-what. Workers made some of the biggest sacrifices. Hours were reduced, pay and wages were scaled back."
The recoveries of General Motors and Chrysler have been constant themes in the president's re-election campaign, particularly in states such as Michigan and the battleground of Ohio.
Chrysler has a massive assembly plant in Toledo, and in November it announced plans to spend $500 million to build a new version of its Jeep Liberty sport utility vehicle and to add a second production shift and 1,100 jobs at the facility in the first half of 2013. GM has a powertrain plant in Toledo.
The Obama campaign said Monday that the president's rescue of the auto industry has saved nearly 155,000 jobs in Ohio, and that the state has gained more than 13,000 industry-related jobs since June 2009. On his way to the rally, Mr. Obama stopped at a diner in Toledo to have breakfast with three autoworkers, two of whom were laid off when Chrysler went bankrupt but have since been hired back.
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Dave Boyer is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times. A native of Allentown, Pa., Boyer worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2002 to 2011 and also has covered Congress for the Times. He is a graduate of Penn State University. Boyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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