Former President Bill Clinton gestures while speaking at a campaign rally for President Barack Obama at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla. President Obama cut short this Florida stop to head back to Washington to monitor Hurricane Sandy.
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YOUNGSTOWN — Pinch-hitting for President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton assailed Mitt Romney on Monday, charging that a new Republican ad being aired here is deceptive in suggesting that Chrysler planned to move its Jeep production to China.
Mr. Clinton told a crowd at Youngstown State University that the claim was “the biggest load of bull in the world,” pointing to a Chrysler Group LLC statement that said the firm was considering ramping up production in China, but not at the expense of its North American operations.
The Vice President echoed Mr. Clinton’s indictment of the commercial.
“Ladies and gentleman, they have no shame,” he said. “Mitt Romney will say anything to be elected.”
The criticisms were part of a broader assault on the former Massachusetts governor’s position on the auto industry rescue, a pivotal issue in a state whose improving economy is heavily dependent on auto manufacturing. For more than a year, the Obama campaign has been reminding Ohio voters that Mr. Romney wrote a New York Times essay headlined, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
‘‘In defending the controversial essay,” Mr. Clinton said, “[Mr. Romney] has tied himself up in more knots than a Boy Scout in a knot-tying contest.”
As he did in the last debate, Mr. Romney has repeatedly contended that the headline distorted his plan, saying that he was in favor of a managed bankruptcy for Chrysler and GM that would not have been substantially different from the one presided over by the administration.
Mr. Biden joined the Democratic chorus of denunciations of that explanation by the Republican presidential candidate. He and his allies reject the notion that the industry could have avoided liquidation without the government aid provided by the Bush administration, and, on a larger scale, by Mr. Obama’s team. Mr. Romney’s article did include a call for a managed bankruptcy along with federal backing of loan guarantees for the firms.
The administration argues, however, that the Romney proposal was unrealistic and would in fact have led to liquidation of the auto firms as well as their suppliers and that the collapse of the credit markets at the time of the bailout would have made such loans unattainable.
Mr. Biden denounced what he called Mr. Romney’s “bizarre claim about the auto industry,” contending that “this guy pirouettes more than a ballerina.”
A spokesman for the GOP campaign stood by the ad.
“It appears the Obama campaign is less concerned with engaging in a meaningful conversation about his failed policies and more concerned with arguing against facts about their record they dislike. The American people will see their desperate arguments for what they are,” said Kate Meriwether of the Romney campaign.
Mr. Clinton and Mr. Biden were the headliners in an event that originally was to have featured the President. It was one of several campaign appearances that the President, like Mr. Romney, canceled in deference to Hurricane Sandy.
But the crowd of roughly 4,800, according to the fire marshal’s estimate, didn’t show any disappointment as they repeatedly cheered Mr. Clinton’s dissection of Mr. Romney’s plans, an assault coupled with an emphatic defense of the incumbent’s record.
The half-hour address echoed the Charlotte convention speech that earned him praise for a more persuasive defense of the administration than the President himself had managed.
Referring to the economic collapse that greeted the new administration in 2009, Mr. Clinton said, “Not a single person who has ever served as president could have repaired all that damage in four years.”
Clearly enjoying himself, Mr. Clinton launched an extended analysis of the spending implications of the budget plan shepherded by Rep. Paul Ryan, Mr. Romney’s running mate, and of the cuts that he said would be inevitable to balance a spending plan that included Mr. Romney’s tax cuts.
He said Mr. Romney’s plan would mean a 33 percent cut in Medicaid over 10 years.
He reminded the crowd that the program paid for health care for lowe- income citizens as well as nursing-home care that’s a crutch to many middle-class families.
While noting that Medicaid funds go to many minority families, he said, in a stage whisper, “Most of them are white folks.”
“This is not a race deal, folks; this is an equal opportunity hosing,’’ he said of the potential Medicaid cuts.
Mr. Obama has enjoyed a persistent if slim lead in Ohio, exceeding his performance in national surveys. But Monday’s rally was in a region that’s been a challenge to the President, even in his successful 2008 campaign. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary here over Mr. Obama by the daunting margin of 54 percent to 45 percent.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. James O’Toole is politics editor at the Post-Gazette.
Contact James O’Toole at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 412-263-1562.