By now, we know the story. While campaigning in Ohio, Romney began by passing on a false story right-wing blogs were circulating about Chrysler moving Jeep production to China. Then, rather than backing off the false claim, he put up an ad repeating the claim. If there was any chance he'd originally made a simple mistake, by now it was a lie told in knowledge of the truth. Then he made a radio ad, adding General Motors to his lies. He's been rebuked by both Chrysler and GM, and, as Cutter noted, by newspapers across Ohio and Michigan. With Romney's lies getting this kind of sustained local attention, Cutter said, "you can imagine how it's playing on the ground."
Cutter, Levin and Strickland all expressed strong confidence that Obama would win both Ohio and Michigan, repeatedly characterizing Romney's ads as "desperate." (Which is hard to argue.) As Strickland put it, "What we’ve seen in the last week from Mitt Romney is a desperate act by a desperate man—a dishonest end to a dishonest campaign."
Levin and Strickland emphasized that voters in their home states are too familiar with the auto industry to be fooled, and that voters will remember both that President Obama stood by the auto industry and its workers and that Romney famously wanted to "let Detroit go bankrupt." Cutter pointed to early voting numbers from Ohio, and all three pointed to polls, bolstering these claims as something more than spin. But really, the desperation argument stands on its own. If Romney thought he was winning, he wouldn't be telling new, easily disproven lies.
Click "continue reading" for extended notes from the call.
These are my notes taken during the call; they are as closely paraphrased as my typing speed permitted, and I've tried to indicate where I missed anything substantial, though I believe on this call much of what I missed was iterations of talking points I did capture elsewhere in the notes.
Cutter: Romney claims he should run the country because he ran a company, his running mate even called him a car guy. Now he's been called out by two car companies. You can't make this stuff up.
Cutter next ran through the statements by Chrysler and GM pushing back on Romney's ads, and noted that every major newspaper in Michigan and Ohio has been on this story, reading off headlines from several papers in each state. "You can imagine how it's playing on the ground." And "Just like folks in Massachusetts, Michigan voters know Gov. Romney best and trust him least."
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan: Romney has approached the auto rescue in the same way he's approached so many other issues. He says whatever he thinks will work in the moment regardless of his past position. In November 2008, it was let Detroit go bankrupt, in a primary debate in November 2011, he said the rescue was wrong way to go. When the primary was over and the general election began, Romney's story changed. Instead of attacking rescue, it was time for him to try to take some credit. In May he said "I'll take a lot of credit" for the auto rescue. That approach didn't work either, so now in the final days of the race he has decided that if claiming credit for what he opposed didn't work, it's time to attack again.
Our folks in Michigan and Ohio know this story very well. Since GM and Chrysler emerged from restructuring, employment in the auto industry is up 19 percent, and that doesn't include thousands of spin-off jobs. Chrysler has added 11,000 jobs, and how many of those people would be unemployed if Romney got his way. Romney is claiming that Chrysler is moving jobs to China but in fact it's adding jobs in Detroit. To adapt an old saying, you can fool some of people some of the time but you can't fool our people when it comes to cars. Can't imagine [an unflattering characterization I missed] strategy in the final days of an election than to try to mislead voters in manufacturing states about an issue we know so well. Manufacturing is growing again and once again it's a ticket to the middle class. President Obama stood up for workers and communities. President Obama was there for our workers. Romney said standing up for our workers was a mistake.
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland: GM was absolutely right. Romney is living in a parallel universe. In Ohio last week he spread a false rumor that Jeep is shifting production to China. "Chrysler rejected that claim faster than its cars can go from zero to 60." What did Romney do? He doubled down, secretly put on air an ad making these claims and hoped you [the press] wouldn't notice. But he wasn't done. He put on a radio ad now trying to fool Ohio voters into thinking both Chrysler and GM were moving jobs to China. GM responded to that. You all know the facts, so let me just say this: This is not a move a campaign makes when it thinks it's winning. It's a dishonest act by a desperate campaign. Romney's hopes of winning the White House are slipping away, he's been rebuked by two great American companies, he's still trying to scare Ohio voters into thinking their jobs will be moved to China. This only reminds us that this is a guy who said Detroit should go bankrupt. The one in eight Ohioans in the auto industry know this. They know Obama saved this vital industry, has their interests at heart, and is honest with us. I believe Mitt Romney's ploy trying to scare Ohio voters may represent the final nail that has been placed in his political coffin. The president has stood with us and I'm absolutely convinced Ohioans will stand with him on Tuesday.
Question: Is there anything you can give us about scope of this buy and how long it will last? This is the second ad you're coming up with. How much is it motivated by outside money being spent in Michigan right now? Is there any truth to the report Democrats are feeling too close for comfort in Michigan?
Cutter: I'm not going to talk about the scope of the buy but it's an appropriate ad for the people of Michigan given the importance of the industry to Ohio and Michigan and that Romney is wholly dishonest to people. Romney's ad is not the ad of a winning campaign. He's not winning Ohio and he's not winning Michigan and we're calling him out on it.
Levin: The most recent public survey, in the Detroit Free Press, shows a solid lead, a six point lead for Obama. It also shows some momentum in his direction and attributes it in large measure, to some extent to his actions to save our auto industry. What's being seen here is that Romney's efforts are a desperate effort to turn good news into bad news. He sees it as his only way to carry these states... It's just simply not going to work. People know too much about the auto industry, what Obama did for it, and what Romney did.
Question: Obama won Ohio's Hamilton County in 2008. What's your level of confidence about winning it again, especially given it's home to Sen. Rob Portman?
Strickland: I don't think people are going to be voting for Portman in this race. In fact, I would remind people that Portman has been traveling with Romney spreading this lie about the auto industry. I know many people associate the auto industry with northern Ohio, but all Ohioans understand its importance. Eighty of 88 counties in Ohio are involved in the auto supply network. I think this issue goes beyond autos. It goes to truthfulness and character. People in Hamilton County are watching this play out just like in Cleveland. If there was an undecided voter in Ohio, I don't know how they could be undecided now given that Romney and his campaign have been exposed for a willingness to deceive. I think the president will do as well in Hamilton County this year as four yearrs ago—which was surprising to a lot of people then. The get out the vote effort is massive and effective, so I think Obama is going to end up with a good victory in Hamilton County.
Question: Is this already showing up in the Ohio poll numbers, or when do you expect it to?
Cutter: The president has had a solid, steady lead in OH. I can't tell you whether this is showing up in public polling but I think it has something to do with why we're winning early voting by significant margins. The last eight public polls had us winning the early vote by double digits. Every day the margin Romney has to win by on election day goes up. It's now 53 percent. Conditions on the ground are only going to get worse for Romney. We do expect the auto ad is affecting public opinion, and affecting public opinion negatively. As Gov. Strickland said, this isn't just about autos, it's about honesty. The president is coming to Ohio, and when he does, one of his lines is "you know me." You know where he stands. Where Romney stands is an open question for people all over the country, especially in Ohio.
Strickland: I have felt for a long time that Romney's greatest weakness in Ohio was the character issue. In the primaries, you may remember Gov. Jon Huntsman described Romney as a well oiled weathervane. Ohioans have come to understand they simply cannot trust him. As Sen. Levin says, Romney says what he thinks the audience wants to hear. It doesn't go over well with Ohioans. The auto issue here is a glaring example of a man coming to the end of a campaign and being willing to engage in deceitful, dishonest tactics in order to win. It's not working. If you go out on the street and ask about politics, what are people talking about? This auto issue, and Romney's claims. I think this could increase the president's margin in a significant way.
Question: When there was such uncertainty surrounding the final three days of early voting in Ohio and whether it would happen, did the campaign place more emphasis on the early days of early voting and banking votes then?
Cutter: We were pretty confident we were going to win in preserving those final three days. Our program on the ground counted on it, so beginning with the first day of early voting all the way through the weekend there has been an aggressive program each and every day. Our success has been demonstrated by the numbers. We didn't plan on losing the three days because we always thought we were going to be successful at preserving them.