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Trump Heads To Ohio, A Key Election-Year State

Mar 20, 2019
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The president visits Ohio today. This is one of several states vital to his re-election chances. It's a state where he promised residents that industrial jobs would come back. And he's now lashing out on social media after a high-profile auto plant closed in Ohio. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is on the line.

Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: How does the president seem to view Ohio?

LIASSON: It's clearly on his mind a lot. He's been tweeting, slamming GM management, slamming the union for the closure of that iconic Chevy Cruze plant in Lordstown, Ohio. He's been demanding that it be reopened or sold to someone who will reopen it. After the wall, bringing back manufacturing jobs to the Rust Belt was probably his most important campaign promise. He actually went to Ohio in 2017 and stood up and said, all those jobs that have left Ohio, he said, quote, "they're all coming back. Don't move. Don't sell your house." You can almost imagine the Democratic campaign ad that can be made about that because it didn't happen.

INSKEEP: Well, I got a chance to talk to some Lordstown autoworkers a couple of months ago. And they were now in that very position of trying to think about, could they sell their house? Could they get out of there? Could they move if they had an opportunity to do that? So sounds pretty bad for the president in this highly symbolic case, but isn't the big picture a little bit better than this one case would suggest?

LIASSON: Absolutely. There's been growth in the manufacturing sector. The problem is that for the president's re-election purposes, people have to feel it in the places that matter, the states he needs to win, like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. And the irony is that the steel and aluminum tariffs that he's put on have hurt the very Rust Belt industries that he's trying to revive. Estimates are that Ford and GM have each been hit with a $1 billion cost from those tariffs. And GM even cited the tariffs when it announced the decision to close that Lordstown plant.

INSKEEP: So that is somewhat similar to the side effects of the trade war with China, which has hurt farmers, people in agricultural areas...

LIASSON: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: ...Which are very red, very Republican, very Trumpy (ph).

LIASSON: Right, absolutely.

INSKEEP: So is there any evidence, given what you said, that his political base that has been so strong for him is abandoning him in any numbers at all?

LIASSON: Well, not in a big way. We did see, in the 2018 elections, some slippage in the Midwest. The Democrats won a Senate race in Ohio and swept Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the elections. That's not necessarily a predictor of 2020. We do know that in Ohio, according to the Morning Consult poll, his approval ratings have dropped 19 points since he was elected. They're now 45 percent approve, 51 percent disapprove - a tiny bit better than nationally. But re-election campaigns are not a referendum on the president alone. They are a binary choice.

INSKEEP: Oh, and the president will have any number of opportunities to use the bully pulpit, as they say, and also to make the election about his opponent, whoever that turns out to be. That's what you're saying.

LIASSON: Right.

INSKEEP: So the president is not actually going to the Lordstown plant that is closed, is he?

LIASSON: No, he's not. He's actually going to a plant in Lima, Ohio, that makes military tanks. I guess that's the one part of the economy he has a lot of control over - military spending. But it also would give him a chance to explain the national security reasons that he put tariffs on steel and aluminum.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, we'll be listening for your coverage and the coverage of the rest of the NPR team. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.