Mitt Romney ripped President Obama's bailout of U.S. auto manufacturers, calling the government infusion of taxpayer dollars a jobs killer, even as the president campaigned Wednesday in a battleground state where the bailout remains popular.
With Obama on the campaign trail in Ohio, Romney launched a television ad in which the bailout is portrayed as disastrous for small businesses.
In the ad, former Ohio car dealership owner Al Zarzour said the bailout destroyed his ability to obtain credit, and he claims that "Ohio dealerships were forced to close" because of the government's action.
However, some political analysts questioned why Romney chose to focus on an Obama achievement that's seen as a success by so many of the white, working-class voters in key Midwest states.
"It is a very hard case to make that the auto bailout was actually a job killer," said Paul Beck, a political scientist at Ohio State University. "I doubt that Ohio autoworkers would see it that way. It is puzzling to me that the Romney campaign would put this issue back on the table themselves, as it did not play well for Romney in the primary here."
One GOP strategist was more blunt.
"It's stupid; it makes zero sense," he said. "I still don't really understand what they're hoping to achieve."
GM and Chrysler closed more than 2,000 dealerships as part of their cost-cutting efforts, prompting many of those dealers to blame the bailout and sue the Obama administration.
However, Ohio ranks behind only Michigan in the number of auto plants and workers it has and one in eight Ohio jobs is linked to the automobile industry. So Romney's attack on the bailout carried the risk of appearing hostile to an industry on which so many voters rely.
At the height of the bailout rage - when the government pumped billions of dollars into General Motors and Chrysler despite a Republican outcry - it would have been difficult for liberals to craft a winning political message defending big-government spending.
But Obama has since argued the bailout was a boon for the auto industry and the ailing American economy, allowing him to recast massive government spending in the more positive light of economic recovery.
Romney counters that billions of tax dollars should not have been put at risk and that the auto manufacturers should have instead entered bankruptcy.
In highlighting Obama's role in the restructuring of the auto industry, Romney is hoping to deflect some of the criticism he's taken for revamping companies as head of Bain Capital. The Obama campaign blames Romney for closing companies and shipping jobs overseas.
And Obama's aides laughed off the newest Romney ad.
"Let's get this straight -- the very person who argued for the U.S. auto industry to go bankrupt... is now trying to attack the president on how it was handled?" Obama campaign spokesman Frank Benenati said. "This ad in Ohio is a new low for the Romney campaign."
Obama didn't mention the bailout to his Ohio audiences. Instead, he continued assailing Romney for favoring the rich over the middle class.
"He's not asking you to contribute more to pay down the deficit," Obama said of Romney's tax plan. "He's asking you to pay more so that people like him can get a big tax cut."