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In their first presidential primary debate, Democratic candidates on Wednesday bashed President Donald Trump's pledge to protect manufacturing jobs after the tentative closure of three auto plants in Ohio and layoffs in Michigan.  

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who represents Ohio in Congress, recalled at the Miami debate that Trump had told residents of Youngstown not to sell their homes. 

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"And in his administration, just in the last two years, we lost 4,000 jobs at a General Motors facility that rippled throughout our community," Ryan said.

"General Motors got a tax cut. General Motors got a bailout. And then they have the audacity to move a new car that they're going to produce to Mexico." 

The Lordstown plant built the Chevrolet Cruze compact car and employed more than 1,400 plant workers and thousands more indirect jobs in the surrounding area of northeast Ohio, a key swing state in presidential elections.

The traditionally Democratic Trumbull County where Lordstown is located voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.

But northeast Ohio has faced declining wages for 40 years as automakers shipped jobs overseas, said Ryan, who made a campaign stop at a Grand Rapids dinner earlier this year. 

"I've had family members that have had to unbolt a machine from the factory floor, put it in a box, and ship it to China," he said.

GM has been on the defensive since November when the company announced a global restructuring that includes stopping production at five North American plants. 

The Detroit automaker has since promised it would be able to offer new positions to a majority of the 2,800 affected U.S. hourly workers, announced new plant investments and created 1,800 jobs. 

GM also has touted its plan to sell its shuttered Lordstown plant to the electric-truck maker Workhorse Group Inc. 

Trump has continued to pressure GM on Lordstown on Twitter and in public appearances in Ohio. He seemed pleased with the potential sale of the factory, calling it "great news for Ohio."

But the United Auto Workers has said it would prefer GM restart the factory and commit to producing a vehicle there. 

Ryan stressed the need to ready the industry for an electric future. 

"We need an industrial policy saying, we're going to dominate building electric vehicles," Ryan added. "There's going to be 30 million made in the next 10 years. I want half of the made in the United States." 

Asked if jobs are coming back under Trump, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts pivoted to a critique of American industrial policy that she says allows “giant corporations" to do whatever they want.

“Giant corporations have exactly one loyalty, and that is to profit, and if they can save a nickel moving a job to Mexico or Asia or Canada, they are going to do that,” said Warren, who held town halls in Detroit and Lansing earlier in June.

She pitched a plan to invest in “green energy” and advanced technology and then “sell it around the world.”

Other debate participants were former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

"Tonight’s debate might as well have included the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus because these Democrat candidates are running to be president of Fantasyland," Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox said.

"With support for insane policies like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and abolishing ICE, the American people saw tonight just how out of touch with reality and our values the Democrats are.

"Under President Trump’s leadership, our economy continues to thrive, unemployment remains at historic lows and billions of dollars are being reinvested into Michigan’s auto industry."

Trump's campaign said the debate was the best argument for his reelection "and should really be counted as an in-kind contribution to the president’s campaign."

"The Democrats proposed a radical government takeover of American society that would demolish the American dream so many are gaining access to under the growing Trump economy," the campaign said in a statement. 

mburke@detroitnews.com

joosting@detroitnews.com

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