With a reminder that President Obama helped save their industry and kept thousands of Ohioans working, Vice President Joe Biden visited Toledo Thursday to seal up support from an already-friendly crowd of auto workers.
"This is a man with steel in his spine," Mr. Biden said of the President to a cheering crowd of 500 at UAW Local 12 in central Toledo. "He knew that restructuring the industry wasn't going to be popular ... but he believed, and he wasn't going to give up on a million jobs."
Mr. Biden's speech before UAW members Thursday marked his first major campaign event in Ohio for President Obama's 2012 re-election effort. He used the event to defend the President's auto-industry bailout and, at the same time, he hammered GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's opposition to the policy, as well as the other GOP contenders.
He called out the three front-runners for the Republican nomination and their "clear and stark" differences from the President. Mr. Biden also said he and Mr. Obama would help the middle class -- a common theme expected from both sides all the way up to the November election.
"Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, these guys have a fundamentally different philosophy than we do," he said. "Stated simply, we're about promoting the private sector. They're about protecting the privileged sector. We are for a fair shot and fair shake. They're about no rules, no risk, and no accountability."
He said their willingness to let Detroit fail shows the problems with their economic plans.
"If you give any one of these guys the keys to the White House, they will bankrupt the middle class again," Mr. Biden said.
The White House said President Obama saved 1.4 million U.S. jobs with the auto bailout.
Polling showed the bailout would be politically unpopular, Mr. Biden said, but the President "didn't flinch" and proceeded.
"The verdict is in. President Obama was right and they were dead wrong," he said, referring to the three front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination.
Mr. Biden said the administration's policies saved a million jobs and that the resurgence of U.S. car makers has helped create 1,350 jobs at Toledo-area auto plants. He praised auto workers for making sacrifices as part of the industry's reorganization.
"The President and I made a simple bet," he said. "We bet on you. We bet on American ingenuity. And we won."
1st of 4 events
The event marked the first of four general-election campaign events Mr. Biden plans to hold in the coming weeks. Ohio -- an always critical battleground state -- was selected as the first stop. The vice president is also expected to campaign hard in Pennsylvania and Florida, two other states up for grabs in November.
Mr. Biden was introduced by a Jeep worker who was laid off but rehired after the industry's restructuring. Michelle "Shelley" Whitson, 52, of Toledo -- who had multiple jobs at that plant, including in the paint and body shops at the Jeep assembly factory and who now gives tours there -- said the President knew it was not a popular decision to bail out the auto industry, but it was the right thing to do.
"I have done only two things in my career, I have served my country and I have made Jeeps," she said. "I will never forget when it was almost ended forever. ... I remember waiting by the phone after the bankruptcy after we got laid off. ... We haven't done anything wrong, we just came to work every day and made great cars. I can't describe what it felt like to face the very real possibility that everything I knew would be taken away from me after 29 years on the job."
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who just defeated Cleveland Congressman Dennis Kucinich in a primary made possible by GOP-controlled redistricting, also addressed the supporters, telling them the auto industry is America's most important one.
"President Barack Obama took a chance because all of us can remember back about three years ago when, literally, General Motors, Chrysler, Jeep, and Ford just hung on," she said, recounting how some in Congress wouldn't support the President's plan.
"Today as we stand here and welcome the vice president back to Toledo, we know that this industry is reborn," Miss Kaptur said. "Our plants are open again, you are working. One out of eight jobs in our state are tied to this industry."
Joe Curry, a former Jeep worker who is now a trainer for the UAW, said Mr. Biden hit exactly the right points during the 14-minute speech.
"The stability of the economy, the stability of these jobs are key," he said. "People don't understand how many jobs are affected by one auto worker working."
State Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon) said Republicans made the wrong choice by not backing the President on the bailout.
"The Obama Administration and the Republican challengers couldn't be more stark," Mr. Szollosi said. "On the one hand you have Obama, who pushed all the chips in the middle of the table and bet on the American workers, and on the other hand you have Romney, who was quoted, 'Let it fail.' So the proof is clear."
Hundreds of people, some of whom waited outside for hours, crammed into the standing-room-only union hall to hear Vice President Biden speak.
Florence Anderson, a retired social worker from South Toledo, started her wait at 7:55 a.m. to get in and hear Mr. Biden speak at about 11 a.m.
"I think it's important he is coming here to show support for President Obama," Ms. Anderson said. "I support him and I want to hear what the vice president is going to say. People here want to hear that jobs are going to be coming back. That is the most important message."
University of Toledo student Tate Stricklin, 27, said student loan interest rates and debt, as well as immigration, were two of the issues that compelled him to come listen to the vice president.
"He is going to have to talk about growth in the automotive industry and sustainability for Toledo to get [votes] here," Mr. Stricklin said.
Before the speech, the Republican National Committee had already released a statement criticizing the President and vice president.
"With broken promises mounting and food and gas prices soaring, President Obama and Vice President Biden know they're in trouble in Ohio, and that's why they continue to hide behind friendly union audiences," the statement said. "Another Biden campaign speech won't change the fact that Obama's signature piece of legislation was resoundingly rejected in every Ohio county or that Ohioans remain worse off than they were when Barack Obama took office. The fact remains, Ohioans are feeling the pain of President Obama and Vice President Biden's policies, while special interests and campaign donors seem to be the only ones better off than they were four years ago."
The statement, written by Republican National Committee regional Press Secretary Ryan Mahoney, referred to the individual mandate of the health-care law rejected in Ohio.
The Michigan Republican Party issued its own statement about Mr. Biden's appearance because of the state's presence of automakers.
"It is sad and disappointing to watch President Obama trample on the successes of the middle class by taking credit for auto's recovery. Obama acts as if he built and designed the cars today that are outselling their foreign competitors. Republicans and in fact most Americans recognize that credit is owed to the men and women who work on the line and build the cars, and those engineers who brought us world-class cars and trucks designed for a global economy," it read.
But there was never any doubt it was a pro-Obama crowd assembled in Toledo for Mr. Biden. Minutes before the vice president's arrival, the crowd was led in a familiar chant: "Everywhere we go, people want to know, who are we here for, so we tell them, we're here for Obama. Obama for the people. We are the people."
Mr. Biden also touted his personal connections to the auto industry during his visit to the area. At the UAW hall, he told the crowd that his father had managed a Jeep dealership.
"I drove those Jeeps you built," Mr. Biden said. "My daughter still drives a Jeep."
Other area stops
After his speech at the UAW hall, Mr. Biden visited Chrysler's Toledo Machining Plant in Perrysburg Township. Chrysler Group LLC said last year it would invest $72 million in the plant, located at 8000 Chrysler Dr.
The plant employs about 850 people who make steering columns and torque converters that are shipped to plants in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Venezuela, Canada, and even a taxicab manufacturer in London. It also ships steering columns to the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex.
After his motorcade arrived at the plant, the vice president got out of his sport utility vehicle, took off his jacket, and walked up to greet Donald DeKeyser, plant manager.
"I welcomed him and he told me a story about how his father was involved with the Newark Assembly plant, which used to make the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen. It was very brief," Mr. DeKeyser said.
About a dozen selected employees were at the gate entrance waiting for Mr. Biden. He talked to the crowd, shouting, "Hey, how are you guys?" More workers then started streaming out of the plant at the end of a 2:30 p.m. shift change. Dozens posed for photographs with the vice president.
Plant physician Dr. Sue Parkins was among those meeting Mr. Biden. "I may need your help," Mr. Biden said to Dr. Parkins, who wore a long white doctor's coat.
Later, Dr. Parkins said: "He said, 'I may need your help,' and I said that we need his. I just told him that we are grateful for what he has done for us."
The vice president then stopped at Glenwood Elementary School in Rossford. Mr. Biden posed for pictures with about 20 children outside while other children stuck their heads out of second and third-floor windows.
"You guys are all so nice to say hi to me. I will tell President Obama you said hi," Mr. Biden said.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com or 419-724-6171.