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Through Ohio, Campaigns Shift Focus to China

Through Ohio, Campaigns Shift Focus to China

By Erin McPike - September 18, 2012


There's a four-letter word that explains why, just two days after anti-American uprisings jolted North Africa and the Mideast last week, the Obama and Romney campaigns started sniping at each other over policies toward China: Ohio.

The Rust Belt swing state, with its 18 electoral votes, is critical to both sides in their strategies for winning the White House in November. It is a heavy manufacturing state that has endured severe population loss over the past decade, and tough talk on job outsourcing is a message that has resonated there in recent election cycles. Over the past year, the Obama campaign has trumpeted -- with some success -- the auto bailout to Ohio voters to make the case that the president saved jobs there.

Republican sources with access to a wide range of internal polling data say the president has opened a four-point lead over Romney in the Buckeye State (the RCP Average currently puts it at 4.2). Indeed, since last October, Romney has never led the president for a single day in the RCP Average of Ohio polls.

And that, several GOP sources based there suggest, is why the day after Obama’s nominating convention drew to a close, Mitt Romney’s campaign team unleashed a blistering TV ad in the state, charging that the president’s economic policies and trade policies with China “destroyed thousands of jobs” locally. Although the commercial doesn’t explain how, it asserts that Romney would stand up to China, and that his economic plan would create 450,000 local jobs and keep “Ohio jobs in Ohio.”

John McClelland, a longtime state Republican operative, told RCP, “It’s almost the standard line now that the road to the White House runs through Ohio.” Consequently, he said, the Romney campaign has “got to do something to change the game a little bit.” Another source deeply entwined in Romney’s Ohio strategy explained, “Obama’s inaction on Chinese currency issues gives Romney an opening in the state to attack on an issue that is normally a strength for Democrats.”

When the GOP nominee campaigned last Thursday in Fairfax, Va., he revived his hard line against China -- charging that it is a currency manipulator -- which he had used to some effect while competing against Rick Santorum in the Ohio primary in March. And he scolded the president for not taking the chance to lash China for its actions on several occasions.

The Obama team responded, producing former Gov. Ted Strickland and Youngstown-based Rep. Tim Ryan for a conference call with reporters. They asserted that Romney is responsible for U.S. job losses via his business practices at Bain Capital. And the campaign also rushed out several new campaign ads. “When a flood of Chinese tires threatened a thousand American jobs, it was President Obama who stood up to China and protected American workers,” one of the new TV spots asserts.

In an interview with RCP, Ryan said, “Romney pursuing this line of argument, with all due respect, is a joke.” The congressman defended the president, noting that by imposing tariffs on Chinese tire companies, the administration has saved hundreds of jobs in northern Ohio.

On Monday, the White House took the additional step of launching a new trade case against China, with the president headlining events in Columbus and Cincinnati to promote it.

Mitt Romney responded during an appearance in Los Angeles: "If I'd known that all it took to get him to take action was to run an ad citing his inaction on China's cheating, I'd have run one a long time ago.” 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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