Is it a sign of things to come?
We’ve spent a good deal of time on the blog the past several weeks talking about Lordstown, the infamous General Motors plant that shut down in March, leading to 1,400 layoffs.
Now it looks like Lordstown is becoming an issue in the 2020 presidential campaign.
Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders — who is considered one of the party’s frontrunners for the nomination, at least as much as there can be a frontrunner at this point — visited Lordstown last week. And over the weekend, the Vermont senator dropped a new digital campaign ad about the Lordstown closure in which he takes direct aim at President Trump.
The Sanders ad, titled “Lordstown Tough,” features Chuckie Denison, a third-generation GM worker who worked at Lordstown and other GM facilities. Denison is backing Sanders in the race — a given, since he’s in an ad for the guy — but Denison spends a good chunk of the ad talking about Trump.
“Trump lied to Ohio. … He came to this area and told people, ‘Do not sell your homes, I’m bringing the jobs back.’ And weeks after that, is when they announced the plant closing,” Denison says.*
Denison continues: “He came here and lied to these people. I didn’t buy it, but many people did because they were hanging on to hope. They were hoping that he would do something, but he did the opposite.”
The ad also features clips of Sanders, who calls out Trump for granting GM federal contracts despite the fact that the company is shipping production overseas.
“Today, I say to Donald Trump, ‘You know, you are a really tough guy… well, let’s see how tough you are. Tell General Motors today, no more federal contracts until they deal with Lordstown. Let’s see how tough you are,’” Sanders says.
This is probably a good time to remind everyone that the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) is a nonpartisan organization, and we don’t endorse or take sides in any campaign, whether it’s the presidential contest or a local city council race.
But we did find it noteworthy that Sanders is using Lordstown to go after Trump. And frankly, it makes sense.
Trump rode into office in 2016 pledging to bring back factory jobs, and he’s especially fond of using the auto industry as part of his rhetoric. After all, people sometimes have a hard time understanding the way big industry works, but lots of people own an automobile. It’s accessible.
Things had been going good for Trump on the factory job front, too. There were 284,000 new factory jobs created in 2018, something that the White House has been more than happy to take credit for.
But GM’s decision to close Lordstown has been a blow. The manufacturing sector lost 6,000 jobs in March as a direct result of the Lordstown shutdown.
Even more than that, it’s the symbolic nature of the closure that stings.
Despite the fact that Trump came to nearby Youngstown and told people that “we’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build brand new ones,” GM still opted to close the plant.
Despite the fact that Trump tweeted out his disappointment, GM still opted to close the plant.
And Sanders stepped in to remind everyone of that fact.
There’s still a long way to go until Democrats pick their eventual nominee, and an even longer way to go until the presidential contest is decided. It is foolhardy at this point to make predictions about what might happen.
But the Sanders ad could be a sign of how the race will play out. To win back the White House, Trump will likely need to win manufacturing states that helped him carry the day in 2016, including Ohio. And the eventual Democratic nominee will also likely need to pick up some of those states, too.
These issues aren’t going away. People in Ohio (and Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and other places) remain concerned about the availability of good paying jobs, and factory closures like what happened in Lordstown hit home for a lot of people. As Denison says in the Sanders ad: “It’s not only devasting to the employees who work for that plant, but the families, it effects the whole entire area. Tax revenue, infrastructure, down to the schools. Even the little children in school, their best friends disappear because they’re uprooted and have to move.”
And that's the sort of thing voters think about when they head into the election booth.