CANTON, Ohio — The auto industry reigns in this northeastern corner of the Buckeye State, and three years after Congress passed Cash for Clunkers, the issue persists on the campaign trail.
So it's serendipitous that a former car dealership owner, freshman Rep. Jim Renacci (R), faces the program's chief sponsor, Rep. Betty Sutton (D), in the 16th district.
"As a car dealer, of course I saw car sales go up for the two months the programs was in place," Renacci said in a Tuesday afternoon interview. "But for the next five months, I saw new car sales go down. That's a problem. All we did was pull sales forward."
The Cash for Clunkers program, passed in 2009 with bipartisan support from Ohio Members, gave drivers up to $4,500 to buy a new fuel-efficient car by trading in their used vehicle. Renacci shut the doors on his Chevrolet dealership in nearby Wadsworth during his 2010 bid for Congress.
Today he's tangling with Sutton over the Cash for Clunkers issue in Ohio's most expensive and competitive House race, which Roll Call rates a Tossup. The Republican is airing campaign advertisements featuring a closed car dealership.
"Cash for Clunkers is a program that my opponent talks about all the time," Renacci added. "She calls it one of her signature programs. The problem is, it didn't work."
But the program remains popular in parts of the district. The Akron Beacon Journal praised Sutton for the "temporary and successful measure to give automakers a needed boost" in their endorsement of her this morning.
Sutton also sees her authorship of the program as a positive and touts it on her official website.
"The simple fact of the matter is this that a successful program," said Anthony DeAngelo, Sutton's campaign spokesperson. "It did help create jobs and foster economic opportunity."
Republicans redrew this district to be a GOP seat, moving many of the manufacturing centers and conservative towns into the 16th district. The district extends from west of Cleveland, through the city's southern suburbs and exurbs, looping in Medina, Wooster and Canton's northwestern suburbs.
Renacci has a geographical advantage over his colleague because he currently represents much more of the redrawn district. But Sutton is a battle-tested opponent, and even Republicans privately acknowledge Renacci has not put away the race yet.