Obama, His Star Hooked to the Auto Industry, Drops In on Toledo

Toledo, OHIO ( TheStreet) -- Not surprisingly, President Obama campaigned Thursday in Toledo, Ohio, a city where his backing for the auto industry has broad support.

Whatever one has to say about the president's job performance, it is clear that Toledo has benefited. The Obama administration bailed out Chrysler, which seemed likely to fail, and in November Chrysler announced it would invest $500 million to expand its Toledo plant, adding 1,105 jobs. The plant makes the Jeep Wrangler and will also make the next generation Jeep Liberty.

A problem, said IHS Automotive analyst Rebecca Lindland, is that much of the country views the auto industry as nothing more than a regional interest group heavily beholden to labor. The bailouts may have strong support in Ohio and Michigan, key automotive states, but elsewhere "people say, 'Why should I rescue the states of Michigan and Ohio?'" she said. "They don't realize it's a nationwide issue, one that ripples out to suppliers and mom--op dealerships throughout the country."

On Thursday Obama, visiting Toledo on a campaign tour, said the Jeep plant is making the "car the world wants, Wrangler.

"It just set an all-time sales record," Obama said, according to The Toledo Blade. "What happened in Toledo can happen in cities like Cleveland, it can happen in Pittsburgh, it can happen in other industries. That's why I'm running for another term as president because I want to make sure that it does."

The timing seemed propitious for an announcement that the Obama administration will file an international trade case with the World Trade Organization in Geneva, accusing China of placing illegal duties on $3.3 billion worth of import duties on U.S.-made auto imports, primarily from GM ( GM) and Chrysler. The plan was first reported by The Blade. The duties in question total 15% on the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee and 21.8% on the Buick Enclave and Cadillac CTS

Trade disputes between the two countries have continued for decades, mounting as China has become the world's second-largest economy as well as the world's largest auto market. China said in December that it planned to impose the $3.3 billion anti-dumping duties on about 92,000 imported vehicles because the government bailouts of Chrysler and GM amounted to an illegal government subsidiary.

"The deck in China is stacked against American automakers and workers, and this case will help to level the playing field," said Scott Paul, executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, in a prepared statement. "Less than 1% of the estimated 18 million vehicles sold in China last year were made in America, despite the fact that the Detroit Three brands are growing more popular every day, (but) Chinese auto parts are surging into America, aided by Chinese government subsidies."

Ohio, of course, is a key battleground state in the presidential election. Since filing for re-election in April 2011, Obama has visited Ohio nine times. This appears so far to have been helpful: According to a poll conducted June 19-25 by Quinnipiac University, Obama led Romney in Ohio by 47% to 38%.

Analyst Lindland said it's no surprise that the auto industry has emerged as a key issue in the 2012 presidential campaign.I

"The industry has been under scrutiny ever since the taxpayer bailout," she said. "Now the president is very focused on manufacturing and on trying to bring jobs back to the U.S. and to create new jobs." This represents a change, Lindland said, from the days before the economy's 2008 collapse, when "we were more of a service economy, particularly financial services, and there wasn't a lot of pride in manufacturing jobs."

On Friday, in a TV interview with NBC affiliate WLWT in Cincinnati, Obama proclaimed: "We saved an auto industry. That saved hundreds of thousands of jobs here in Ohio."

The question is: How much does the rest of the country care about Ohio's problems?

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/tedreednc.

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