COLUMBUS — Using the rebounding auto industry as an example, Vice President Joe Biden argued on Thursday that Ohio voters face a choice between vastly different visions when it comes to the future of the American middle class.
He sought to turn Ohio's stronger-than-average economic recovery, in part thanks to manufacturing growth, to his boss' advantage in a state considered a must-win on Nov. 6.
Mr. Biden quoted from an exclusive interview that presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney gave to The Blade that appeared in Wednesday's newspaper.
"He said to the press, quote, ‘It would never have crossed my mind to close down the industry,'?" Mr. Biden told a crowd of several hundred people inside a plumbers' union hall in Columbus, which he mistakenly referred to at one point as Toledo.
"I wonder what in the heck was occupying his mind" when he wrote the New York Times opinion piece entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Obama is banking that his auto-industry rescue will resonate in swing states such as Ohio and Michigan, where tangible results include added work shifts and plant expansions. Mr. Romney, however, has criticized the program that lent automakers Chrysler and General Motors billions of taxpayer dollars and has argued the companies should have been allowed to go through structured bankruptcies instead.
Thursday's event kicked off a statewide tour in which Democrats will tout the "comeback story" of Ohio manufacturing. Manufacturing growth has contributed to the drop in the state's unemployment rate to 7.3 percent, compared to a national rate stuck at 8.2 percent.
Gov. John Kasich has touted that Ohio has added about 100,000 jobs since he took office in 2011, a message that has sometimes put Mr. Kasich at odds with his fellow Republicans' more pessimistic take on the economy on the campaign trail. Those 100,000 jobs, however, make up for just a quarter of the jobs that Ohio lost between 2001 and 2009, many of them manufacturing jobs.
The vice president briefly defended Mr. Romney's role as chief executive officer of the private equity firm Bain Capital.
"It does what it was supposed to do: make money," he said.
But then he pointed to Bain's role in creating jobs overseas with firms whose fortunes it turned around, as well as the controversy about how much of a role Mr. Romney played in outsourcing decisions after 1999, when he said he took his leave from the company.
"Romney said the President is out of touch," Mr. Biden said. "Out of touch? A guy with a Swiss bank account, a guy with a million bucks invested in the Cayman Islands? And my guy's out of touch? … Did you ever think you'd see a presidential race when you're choosing between one guy with a million bucks in the Cayman Islands and a Swiss bank account, and the other guy invested in the United States?"
Romney spokesman Chris Maloney said Mr. Biden engaged in "dishonest attacks" to distract from Mr. Obama's economic record.
"After overseeing a loss of 17,000 manufacturing jobs in Ohio and spending three years pushing policies that drive jobs overseas, it's clear that Barack Obama and Joe Biden don't have a clue when it comes to job creation in America," Mr. Maloney said. "Mitt Romney has a comprehensive plan to reform the corporate tax code that will lower rates, get rid of incentives for firms to create jobs in other countries, and encourage the kind of economic growth for Ohio President Obama's Administration has been unable to deliver."
Before speaking for roughly 30 minutes at the union hall, Mr. Biden toured a nearby nonprofit engineering facility, Edison Welding Institute. The 130-employee facility welds thin pieces of metal together to create plates used by heavy manufacturing, and the vice president used it as an example of how technology is changing manufacturing.
"We're not betting on anybody else," Mr. Biden said. "We're betting on Ohio. We're betting on the United States of America. By the way, that's not just talk. That's an actual fact. … Our bets are already beginning to pay off. Jobs are already back all over the country, not just in the auto industry."
Ohio has been a presidential campaign hot spot again this week as the candidates dueled over their economic strategies. Mr. Obama was in Cincinnati on Monday and Mr. Romney was in Toledo and Bowling Green on Wednesday.
No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio, and no Democrat has done so since John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Weston Jones, a former Lutheran pastor and Democrat from suburban Columbus, attended the event.
"I think the [auto] bailout was essential," he said. "Without the bailout, we would be looking at a much greater financial hole than we are now. What drives me crazy is the fact that people are perceiving that only what we do affects our economy."
John Akrobettoe, a retired state employee, said he believes the Obama campaign's focus on Bain is fair game.
"From what I'm hearing about [Mr. Romney's] background, moving his money outside the country, Bain, and having different ideas about when he quit … you can't be a leader if you aren't truthful with the people," he said.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.