SABINA, Ohio — In an effort to blunt the president’s narrow lead in this state where one in eight jobs is connected to the auto industry, Paul Ryan introduced a new line of attack at a rally here, noting that Barack Obama has been campaigning in the state on “how the auto bailout was such a success,” but the GOP vice presidential nominee tried to tell the audience there is more to the story.
Before the rally, Ryan met with a group of nine non-union salaried workers from Delphi, a company that spun off from General Motors in 1999. Due to the bailout they faced significant cuts to their pensions and benefits when the company went bankrupt and Ryan was quick to talk about the issue on the stump.
“I represent Southern Wisconsin, and one of the towns that I represent is Oak Creek, Wisconsin,” Ryan told the crowd of about 800 at a high school here. “Now the reason I mention this is because we used to have two Delphi factories in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. I just had the opportunity to sit down with some Delphi employees here, some of the salaried employees here, who are just like the people that I know who are my friends and constituents in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. You see the president likes to go around Ohio talking about how he saved the auto industry … tell you what: he hasn’t talked to these Oak Creek salaried employees, he hasn’t talked to these Ohio Delphi salaried employees because this is one of those examples of the government picking winners and losers.”
Ryan said the workers only wanted “transparency and honesty from their federal government and they’re not getting it. And they deserve better than that.”
“There’s nothing wrong with asking for honesty and decency and fairness and transparency and equal treatment for all,” Ryan said.
During the 1999 spinoff negotiations between GM and Delphi, three unions secured benefit guarantees for their members, but Delphi workers who were non-unionized salaried employees, as well as hourly employees belonging to other unions, did not have those same guaranteed protections, and those are the workers Ryan met with and was referring to on the stump Saturday night.
The union workers that were covered in their negotiations had their pensions made whole by GM in the auto bailout.
Ryan compared the Delphi workers who saw their pensions cut to auto worker job losses in his home state, something he has mentioned on the campaign trail since he was selected to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, and most famously in his Republican National Convention address.
“Look at Delphi perfect example, we lost four auto factories in the district I represent since 2008,” Ryan said. “In my home town of Janesville, Wisconsin, we were kind of a one-factory town — we had a big GM plant, we made Suburbans and Tahoes and then we had these feeder plants … a lot of my friends I went to high school with worked there, now they don’t have a job.”
Ryan was heavily criticized over this part of his convention speech because he linked the closure of the GM plant to Obama, who gave a speech there in 2008. But, the last GM vehicle produced at the plant was in late 2008 when George W. Bush was still president.
The auto bailout has been fodder for both sides of this campaign. The Democrats have continuously criticized Romney for his November 2008 New York Times op-ed, titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” in which Romney called for a privately financed managed bankruptcy for the auto giants, with the government providing guarantees to their loans.
It’s ammunition the Democrats use continuously on the campaign trail. Most recently, Obama and Romney got into a testy exchange over it during last week’s final presidential debate, with Romney saying Obama was mischaracterizing the editorial.
The president said if he had taken Romney’s advice “we’d be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China.”
The Obama campaign responded Saturday evening saying Ryan “is trying to rewrite history” and he is “shamelessly” using the “misfortune of Delphi workers to attack the president.”
“The fact is that when the American auto industry and its workers were on their knees, Mitt Romney turned his back,” Obama spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement. “Every day, Mitt Romney proves he’ll say anything to win votes, but Ohioans deserve a president they can trust when it matters most, which is exactly what they have in President Obama.”
Ryan also told voters at East Clinton High School in this critical state that he knows they “are used to being the battleground state of battleground states” stressing the importance of working on the ticket’s behalf in the 10 days remaining in the campaign.
“You’ve got a very unique responsibility on your hands,” Ryan said at his fifth and final stop on day one of his bus tour. “It’s a great opportunity because, Ohioans, as you go so goes the rest of the country in so many ways. You’re used to this, you’ve been in this position before and I think and I know you understand the consequences.”
Ryan starts day two of his bus tour Sunday continuing to travel across the state. He will also be joined by his running mate, making stops in Celina, Findlay, and Marion. Romney continues campaigning in the state Monday, while Ryan will stump in Florida.