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BEAVERCREEK, Ohio — Standing in an aerospace parts plant that made the transition from the auto components business, GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney on Saturday accused President Obama of "crony capitalism'' in the federal bailout of the auto industry.
"It's known as crony capitalism, where politicians in power decide to use their power to take care of their friends," Mr. Romney told a crowd packed onto the floor of USAerospace in Republican-friendly Beavercreek, a suburb of Dayton.
"We have in this country provisions for bankruptcy," Mr. Romney said. "What happened in this case is the President decided, first of all, to send money to the auto companies without first stopping the bleeding. He should have let them go through managed bankruptcy first, not send the money there first.
"Because he led this bankruptcy process and put that money in up front, he put his hands on the scales of justice in the bankruptcy process," he said. "Instead of the law being followed, certain favors were given to special people, and people who worked for the [United Auto Workers] got the special deals."
The former Massachusetts governor's opposition to the financial bailout of the industry is not much of an issue in the Republican race. But President Obama and Democrats looking ahead to November have made it an issue as Mr. Romney campaigns in major automotive states such as Michigan and Ohio.
He recently visited Toledo, an area benefiting as Chrysler and General Motors rebound with production expansion and job creation. Mr. Romney's Saturday visit in the Dayton area was in the shadow of the other side of that story — Delphi, the General Motors auto parts spinoff that went bankrupt well before the auto bailout and saw many plants closed or sold off.
Although dependent now on the aerospace and defense industries, USAerospace started out primarily manufacturing components for auto parts manufacturers.
In the town-hall setting, Mr. Romney responded to a question from a former Delphi employee who said he lost his health care, pension, and life insurance in the process.
"This is a human life," Mr. Romney said. "This is a family affected by government … You worry about their future … We expect Washington to try and solve problems, make things better, not to get in the way."
He did not, however, respond to the second part of the audience member's question, asking what help a Romney administration would offer to people in his shoes.
State Sen. Eric Kearney (D., Cincinnati), an Obama supporter, said, "Dismissing auto and manufacturing jobs that have built this state and are leading its recovery, Romney continually proves he's out of touch with what's happening here in the heartland.''
Saturday's setting gave Mr. Romney another opportunity to criticize Mr. Obama's proposed defense cuts for a post-Iraq/Afghanistan era.
"This is a President who's comfortable with the idea of cutting $500 billion out of our decade-long military commitment," he said. "My view is a strong military is the best ally that peace has ever had."
He led off the town-hall meeting that was heavy on economic issues with a moment of silence for victims of tornadoes that swept through portions of the Midwest, including southwest Ohio.
Polls show that the contest for Ohio on Super Tuesday is too close to call between Mr. Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Mr. Romney never mentioned his GOP opponents by name but again tried to make the case a businessman like him is better suited than Washington insiders to fix what is wrong with Washington.
In addition to Mr. Romney, two of the other three GOP candidates concentrated their efforts on western Ohio Saturday, three days out from Super Tuesday when Ohio and nine other states will hold primaries or caucuses worth more than 400 delegates. Sixty-three of Ohio's 66 delegates are up for grabs.
Mr. Romney joined Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich for a FOX News taping in Wilmington, the southwest Ohio town that was shell-shocked in 2009 when DHL Express closed its Wilmington Air Park freight hub, putting some 8,000 people out of work. He finished Saturday with an event at a Cincinnati riverfront restaurant.
He traveled with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, former White House budget director under George W. Bush. Mr. Portman has been mentioned as a potential running mate for Mr. Romney in an attempt to put battleground Ohio in the GOP column in November.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.