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Mitt Romney said on Tuesday he never turned his back on his auto-building Detroit hometown even though he advocated to "let Detroit go bankrupt."
"It would never have crossed my mind to close down the industry," the presumed Republican presidential nominee said in an exclusive telephone interview with The Blade. "My plan was how best to save the industry, and in my view, going through a managed bankruptcy process was essential to saving the industry."
Mr. Romney is scheduled today to attend a Toledo fund-raiser where tickets cost $10,000 a couple for a VIP photo reception or $50,000 to attend a luncheon. At 2 p.m. he will speak at a "town hall" event at the Bowling Green Community Center where he will take audience questions. Ohio Gov. John Kasich will join Mr. Romney in Bowling Green, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said. From there, Mr. Romney will travel to a campaign event in Canton.
Protesters from the group MoveOn.org Political Action announced plans to carry signs calling on Mr. Romney to release more than a single year of his tax returns.
Mr. Romney gave an exclusive print-media interview to The Blade on Tuesday, answering questions for 17 minutes on the telephone just prior to taking the stage at a rally outside Pittsburgh.
At 11:30 a.m. today, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney will attend a fund-raiser at the Toledo Club. Tickets are $10,000 a couple for a VIP photo reception or $50,000 a person to attend the photo event and a noon luncheon.
Mr. Romney will speak at 2 p.m. today at a town hall meeting at the Bowling Green Community Center at 1245 West Newton Rd. Information is available at http://romneybowlinggreen.eventbrite.com.
He and Democratic incumbent President Obama are lavishing attention on Ohio, a swing state that could end up deciding the 2012 election.
Mr. Obama held a town hall meeting in Cincinnati on Monday, where he accused Mr. Romney of backing policies that favor the rich and encourage outsourcing of U.S. jobs.
Vice President Joe Biden is to make an appearance Thursday in Columbus as part of what he calls the "Made in Ohio Manufacturing Tour."
Mr. Romney, 65, grew up in the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. His father, the late George Romney, headed American Motors for a time and later was governor of Michigan.
Among the thousands of Michiganians and Ohioans whose lives would have been devastated by an unruly collapse of the auto industry may also have been some of Mr. Romney's friends and family members who remain in the area.
Economists predicted as many as 1 million people would have lost jobs if Washington had not come through with taxpayer funds to help General Motors and Chrysler through the financial crisis that started in 2008.
Under President Obama, the government poured $82 billion into GM and Chrysler, an action that has been rewarded with record sales by both companies and plans to bring on 1,100 more workers at Chrysler's Toledo Jeep assembly complex.
Taxpayers are still on the hook for equity in GM of about $23 billion.
Mr. Romney said his solution would have saved taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.
Asked if he turned his back on his hometown by taking a hard line against a government bailout of the American auto industry, Mr. Romney said that was a mischaracterization of his position.
He made his case in a Nov. 18, 2008, New York Times guest column headlined "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." That column made reference to government guarantees, not direct outlays of government money.
Critics said there was no private financing available to even keep the companies alive while courts and, lawyers, debtors, and creditors argued over how to reorganize the industry.
"There's no question in the minds of people who know my passion for U.S.-made automobiles that everything I proposed was to strengthen the companies and keep them from being taken down the drain," Mr. Romney said.
"My view prevailed because ultimately the companies did go through bankruptcy and having done so they have been able to become more competitive, and government resources were helpful and essential to get them back on their feet. And I would have supported those resources as part of a managed bankruptcy process," Mr. Romney said.
Mr. Romney's suggestion that President Obama followed his advice in taking the companies through bankruptcy has brought howls of derision.
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, an Obama supporter, said in May, "the same guy that wanted the auto industry to go under wants to take credit now that it's back on top."
The interview touched on Mr. Romney's search for a vice-presidential running mate, but he refused to divulge a detail, even if U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) is on his short list. "There are a number of terrific people in our party. Rob Portman is certainly one of them. But as to who is or is not being thoroughly vetted in the process I just am not going to offer any information," he said.
Mr. Romney, who founded investment firm Bain Capital in 1984, defended the company despite its less-than-golden touch with the Stage clothing store chain. A Stage store in Bowling Green closed in 2000, four years after Bain bought out the former long-time downtown store F.W. Uhlman & Co -- a situation Democrats said showed Mr. Romney was only interested in profits.
Mr. Romney said Bain made about 350 investments over its life, that 80 percent of those investments grew, and 5 percent ended in bankruptcy.
"I do know the Obama team will spend all their energy and effort discussing at great length those that did not grow," Mr. Romney said. "That's the nature of politics. But I also know that every investment with which I'm familiar during my work at Bain Capital tried to grow businesses and to make them more successful. And successful, profitable businesses can hire people and grow."
Mr. Romney said he would end the new national health-care law, but would leave in place a provision prohibiting insurers from dropping people with a pre-existing condition.
As far as the uninsured, he said he would leave that to the states.
"I would note that states like Ohio do provide health care even today for those who are uninsured. Each state has its own method for caring for those that don't have health insurance," Mr. Romney said. His plan is to provide states with block grants they can use to care for the uninsured.
In response to questions about the negative tone of political advertising, Mr. Romney turned the issue to what he said was dishonest campaigning.
"When a campaign is dishonest in the ads it will run about another candidate, it diminishes the campaign, it diminishes the candidate, and it diminishes the presidency. I think dishonesty is a line that campaigns cross at their own peril, and to a degree at the peril of the nation," Mr. Romney said.
He has accused the Obama campaign of wrongly claiming Bain encouraged outsourcing of American jobs when he headed Bain.
This week, the Romney for President campaign made its first Toledo TV advertising purchases. The ads will start today and run into next week. The campaign purchased $83,050 of time through CBS affiliate WTOL-TV, Channel 11, and $120,050 through ABC affiliate WTVG-TV, Channel 13.
As of last week, the Romney campaign was not advertising in the Toledo market. However, pro-Romney political action committees have spent or reserved more than $2.5 million in Toledo broadcast time to attack President Obama. The Obama campaign had spent or reserved about $2.2 million as of last week to promote the President and attack Mr. Romney in the Toledo market.
Alluding to growing up in nearby Michigan, Mr. Romney said he thought of Toledo as "the neighbor next door."
He said some of his classmates at the Cranbrook School boarding academy he attended in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., came to Toledo where one could purchase a reduced-alcohol (3.2 percent) beer at a younger age than in Michigan.
"I did not take advantage of your more relaxed alcohol laws, although a number of my classmates at school did. They had something in Ohio, I forget what they called it, that was allowed to be purchased by younger people, so kids from my school made frequent pilgrimages to Toledo," Mr. Romney recalled. "I had other weaknesses. That wasn't one of them."
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.