Obama campaign responds
If the Jeep ad was intended to confound the Obama campaign, the reaction was the opposite: gleeful outrage.
Obama's campaign fired back with its own ad, which crowed that "Chrysler itself has refuted Romney's lie. The truth? Jeep is adding jobs in Ohio." Surrogates on the campaign trail, notably former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, mocked the ad as audiences roared with laughter.
For the Obama camp, it was a twofer: They got to remind voters in Ohio and all over the country that Romney had opposed the auto bailouts and also portray him as desperate.
Obama himself brought it up in a campaign appearance in Cincinnati the Sunday before the election, casting it as a character issue.
"And so when you're thinking about this choice, or you're talking to your friends and neighbors about this choice, you've got to remind them it's not just about policy, it's also about trust. Who do you trust?" On the weekend before the election, Chris Wallace of Fox News interviewed Romney political director Richard Beeson and asked him if the ad was a mistake.
"Well, I found it interesting that President Obama would attack Mitt Romney on that when they put up an ad saying that Gov. Romney says 'Let Detroit Go Bankrupt' when that's a headline from the New York Times op-ed," Beeson said. "And the second thing is President Obama talking about scaring people when yesterday he's out there saying 'voting is the best revenge.'"
The problem for Romney was that his opposition to the bailout was out of step with most Ohio voters, said William Binning, a professor of political science at Youngstown State University.
"I think the Romney people just couldn't figure out how to handle this, or mitigate its effect," Binning said. "So they came up with this ad. And this ad didn't get them anywhere."
PolitiFact tried many times to reach Romney's top staff but received no response. In a post-election panel discussion conducted with both campaigns at Harvard University, Romney's team insisted the ad had worked, that it had reassured voters in key Ohio markets.
"If you look in those markets, we did better in those markets for having run that," Stevens said.
But Democrats didn't see it that way.
In Ohio, Democrats used Romney's Jeep ad to attack Republicans for not being supportive enough of the American auto industry. Chris Redfern, chairman of the state party, said he intends to use it again against Republicans who "remained silent" while Chrysler's top brass were refuting the ad.
"If you come from northwest Ohio, and you're not defending Jeep, you're part of the problem," Redfern said.
In an interview with PolitiFact, Obama strategist David Axelrod said the so-called "earned media" — news coverage — can easily outweigh the points made by paid political ads, especially when a campaign is in the final stretch.
"The controversy surrounding the ad became a focus of news coverage," he said. "At the end of the campaign, when everybody is watching everything closely. "¦ They just weren't going to get away with it. It was a very high-risk strategy, and it backfired."