JOHN SEEWER,Associated Press
SANDUSKY, Ohio (AP) — President Barack Obama's bus trip on Thursday through northern Ohio was taking him to four areas with big auto plants as he defends his decision to rescue U.S. automakers.
After a morning stop in the Toledo suburb of Maumee, Obama arrived at a park in Sandusky just blocks from Lake Erie. Hundreds of people packed the sidewalks in the downtown area, and school buses lined the park on all sides for security.
Russ Dickman, of Sandusky, said the auto industry's health has a big impact on everyone. But he said the economy isn't where it used to be.
"Not yet," Dickman said while sitting on the steps of a merry-go-round museum in Sandusky's quaint downtown. "I can see it getting there."
Earlier, hundreds of supporters, including several wearing United Auto Workers union T-shirts, waited in Maumee for two hours for Obama's arrival.
"The best thing he ever could have done was save the auto industry," said William Harris of Holland, a worker for a Chrysler engine plant in Detroit for 36 years before retiring. "It's not back yet, but it's come a long ways."
Former Gov. Ted Strickland, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown warmed up the crowd in Maumee, all touting the auto industry's revival. Brown applauded U.S. efforts to defend American auto jobs against what he called unfair Chinese trade practices.
Ohio residents waiting to enter the morning event agreed the auto industry is key for the area but had varying opinions on the political impact of the auto bailout.
Thomas Hutton, a retired pharmacist from Toledo, said the auto industry is important but he didn't think it would be a defining issue for the presidential campaign.
"It's a side issue," he said. "The big ones are the economy and heath care."
Army retiree Glenn Shields said preserving jobs is good, but he thinks the auto companies should've recognized their problems sooner. He said the auto bailout will be an important issue in November.
"It's going to be a major factor," said the 69-year-old. "The big issue will be the growing debt related to the bailout."
Linda Schneider of Maumee said she was unemployed four years ago before getting a human resources job with a Toledo-area auto parts company.
"This is an auto region," she said. "We need (the industry) to survive."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.