"These companies are institutions, points of pride all over the state," said Jacob Foskuhl, an Obama supporter from Columbus. "It's not something you can just toy with in this economy at the last minute in an election."
But Mike Morton, a Romney backer from Columbus, said the bailout wasn't a silver bullet for Ohio's economy. "The unions benefited. Management didn't," Morton said. "There's a lot people don't know about this."
The bailout has been central to Obama's pitch in Ohio for months. The government rescue is credited with saving 1 million jobs, and Democrats say it's one of the reasons Ohio's unemployment rate is down to 7 percent, nearly a full point lower than the national average.
Obama's advisers are confidently predicting that backlash from Romney's auto ads could propel the president to victory in Ohio.
"We all felt prior to this week we were in very solid shape in the state of Ohio and our expectation is that our position has been strengthened by this," said David Plouffe, a senior adviser to Obama.
Aides also see the bailout as a tangible example of the larger message they are trying to impart on voters: that Obama is willing to side with the middle class, even if it means making politically difficult decisions. The bailout was initially unpopular, but it slowly gained momentum as the companies became profitable and added jobs.
"I knew betting on American workers was the right thing to do," Obama said in Ohio Friday. "That bet paid off."
Romney's team doubled down on its position Friday. Spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said Obama's "mismanagement of the process has exposed taxpayers to a $25 billion loss. And these companies are expanding production overseas."
Romney spent months trying to mitigate the bailout's impact on the race by simply not talking about it. But he sharply shifted course this week when he launched the new TV and radio spots.
The TV ad says: "Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China." A radio ad makes a similar point.
The claims are highly misleading. In fact, Chrysler is adding 1,100 jobs to its plant in Toledo. It's also adding production facilities in China as demand for cars there grows. Because of trade rules, it's easier for companies to build cars for the Chinese market in China. It's also more efficient. Japanese automakers, for example, have plants in the U.S. to meet American demand.
Both GM and Chrysler have taken issue with the ads in recent days.
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.