How Mitt Romney's Ohio Auto Ad Triggered a Political Showdown

Routine news story triggers a nasty political fight over the auto bailout.

Nov. 1, 2012— -- President Obama's and Mitt Romney's campaigns have two dramatically different readings of a heavily disputed ad airing in the battleground state of Ohio that suggests auto companies General Motors and Chrysler are planning to ship jobs overseas.

A closer look at the history behind the ad and Romney's similar statements on the campaign trail show how a fairly routine business story became the dominant political football in the final days of the campaign, as both candidates stake their claim to Ohio with the president guarding a slight lead in the polls.

"Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China," the Romney ad says. "Mitt Romney will fight for every American job."

Romney also said on the campaign trail in Ohio on Oct. 25 that he had learned from a news story that day that Jeep "is thinking of moving all production to China."

The ad started running a few days later on Oct. 28.

Chrysler has vehemently denied the ad's suggestion that adding Jeep production facilities in China will cost U.S. jobs. The company's CEO said this week that any such statement would be "inaccurate." GM has also flatly denied the Romney campaign's claims in a new radio ad airing in Ohio that suggested the company is shipping jobs to China.

Romney campaign officials stand behind the ad, which they say is accurate and only suggests that if jobs are being created in China, they are not being created in the United States.

What the ad claims and what it implies might be two separate issues, but Romney's aides initially claimed that the GOP challenger's Oct. 25 comments about Jeep in Defiance, Iowa, were based on an early version of a Bloomberg News article that first reported on Chrysler's plans for production in China.

The article, written by a Michigan-based industry reporter Oct. 22, said the company would be "adding Jeep production sites," not shifting them to China. Chrysler itself called the piece "clear and accurate."

And a representative for Bloomberg told ABC News that the article was updated on the same day it was published with background information, days before Romney's Jeep claims made an appearance on the trail.

Indeed, when the company's vice president of corporate communications, Gilberto Rainer, wrote a blog post Oct. 25 reiterating that Chrysler did not intend to move North American jobs to China, it was in response to a second article by the Washington Examiner that reinterpreted the Bloomberg piece to mean something different: "Jeep, an Obama favorite, looks to shift production to China," the headline read.

In the piece, published on the newspaper's Washington Secrets blog, the Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard declared, "Jeep, the rugged brand President Obama once said symbolized American freedom, is considering giving up on the United States and shifting production to China." (Bedard acknowledged a few days later that his original article misinterpreted the Bloomberg story.)

On Oct. 25, Bedard's original article was aggregated on the Drudge Report and, later that day, Romney made his first comments about Jeep on the campaign trail.

But within hours of the Examiner story's publication -- and before Romney referenced the Jeep story at the Oct. 25 Ohio rally -- Chrysler refuted the Examiner's claims, calling it "a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats."

Chrysler's production of Jeeps in China had been ongoing for years and only ended in 2009 when the company went through bankruptcy.

A Romney campaign adviser Wednesday said he did not know that Chrysler has added jobs in Ohio, despite company CEO Sergio Marchionne's statement Tuesday reiterating plans to add more than 1,000 jobs in Ohio.

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said the campaign isn't backing away from the ad. And the issue represents an opportunity for Romney to reframe the public debate about the auto bailout as an Obama policy with mixed results, rather than a clear success for states such as Ohio.

"We've got an ad out that we believe makes the case for why Gov. Romney would be stronger for the auto industry and why the auto industry's an important part of a strong economy," Madden told reporters. "They've got an ad that they're using to make their case to the public, and we'll leave that with voters."