While on the campaign trail in Wisconsin, Mitt Romney told a “humorous” (his word) little story going back to the days when his father, George Romney, was head of American Motors.
The car company had a factory in Michigan and two in Wisconsin, the likely Republican presidential nominee recalled.
Romney’s father decided to close the factory in Michigan and consolidate production in Wisconsin.
Later, when George Romney ran for governor of Michigan, the campaign was faced with “a very sensitive issue,” Mitt Romney recalled.
During a campaign parade, the only fight song the local band could play was “On Wisconsin, on Wisconsin,” which sent George Romney aides scrambling to get the band to stop, lest Michigan voters be reminded that he had closed an auto plant in his home state, sending production from Detroit to Kenosha and Milwaukee.
Hilarious, isn’t it?
Although the story didn’t seem to bother too many voters in Wisconsin’s Republican primary Tuesday, which Romney won along with contests in the District of Columbia, and Maryland, such tone-deaf anecdotes could send his campaign into a tailspin once it arrives in Ohio for the general election.
In fact, observers feel the general election campaign got under way Tuesday (informally, anyway), when President Obama named Romney in a speech that targeted the Republican’s endorsement of a GOP budget proposal that would slash federal spending. In doing so, Obama positioned himself as protecting the middle class against the “radical vision” of the Republican Party.
To win Ohio, Romney must build on a primary victory here in which he attracted support from the suburban areas outside the state’s big cities. But he must also energize the party’s base, which went for Rick Santorum in the rural areas, home to evangelical Christians, tea partyers and the very conservative.
That’s a tough job, since suburban voters, much more likely to swing back and forth between the two major parties in presidential elections, aren’t moved by the same messages. In other words, instead of guns, God and gays, suburban voters will tune into messages about jobs, jobs, jobs.
When Romney stumps in, say, Parma Heights or Lordstown, Obama and his Democratic allies will be happy to remind voters about what a yuck Romney still gets out of his dad closing car factories.
But it won’t stop there. Every chance the Democrats get, they will remind voters about Romney’s opposition to the federal bailout of Chrysler and General Motors, which Romney, in a now-famous op-ed piece in the New York Times, argued hurt the auto industry’s recovery.
Obama can expect help defending the bailout from Democrat Sherrod Brown, who is campaigning for re-election to the U.S. Senate.
Brown likes to remind union audiences about a report from the Center for Automotive Reseach, an independent, nonprofit organization in Ann Arbor, Mich. Ohio added more than 3,000 auto jobs between 2009 and 2010 and will add another 3,500 by 2015, according to the center. More than 792,000 jobs in Ohio depend on the auto industry, it reported.
About the long primary season, the Romney camp likes to draw comparisons to the battle between Obama and Hillary Clinton four years ago, arguing that Romney will be the better candidate in the fall because of the competition.
The comparison is seriously flawed, as Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush, pointed out on CNN Tuesday night. During the Democratic primary four years ago, Obama’s favorability ratings went up, even though the campaign was heated. It’s been a different story for Romney, whose favorability ratings have declined, Fleischer noted.
With former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum vowing to fight on until his home state’s primary on April 24 and, perhaps, until Texas votes on May 29, Romney must not lose focus on winning the nomination just yet.
But he must also retool his message on the economy, beyond blaming Obama for the slow pace of the recovery, before he arrives in the suburbs of Ohio’s industrial centers, where voters want to hear stories about car plants that are adding shifts, not shutting down.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.