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13 April 2024

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So what exactly was Chrysler Group selling in its unabashedly patriotic Super Bowl commercial starring Clint Eastwood? Its cars, trucks and Jeeps? Or a second term in office for Barack Obama?

Speculation and political talk ran rife Monday after the automaker's two-minute "halftime in America" spot ran during the National Football League championship that doubles as a showcase for Madison Avenue creativity.

In the ad (youtube.com/chrysler) Eastwood, 81, using the same gravelly voice as in "Dirty Harry," recounts -- but with no mention of federal bailouts -- how the US auto industry is making a comeback.

"I've seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. This country can't be knocked out with one punch.

"We get right back up again -- and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it's halftime, America. And our second half is about to begin."

From a strictly advertising point of view, Chrysler's commercial -- with its moody images of concrete and steel, urban decay and industrial prowess -- was a clear sequel to its haunting "made in Detroit" ad from last year.

But with Obama gunning for another four years as president in November's election, pundits inevitably wondered if Chrysler, to paraphrase a memorable Eastwood line from the movies, made Obama's day.

"I was, frankly, offended by it," said Karl Rove, mastermind of George W. Bush's presidential victories, who alleged on Fox News that the commercial was paid for with Chrysler bailout money.

"It is a sign of what happens when ... the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising and the best wishes of the management."

Eastwood, a life-long Republican who supported John McCain against Obama in 2008, emphatically denied any political bias, as did Chrysler.

"There is no spin in this ad. On this I am certain," Eastwood said in a statement issued to Fox News.

"I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr Obama. It was meant to be a message about job growth and the spirit of America. I am not supporting any politician at this time.

"If Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of the ad, go for it."

In Detroit, Sergio Marchionne, the Italian-Canadian chief executive of both Chrysler and its Italian parent Fiat, insisted the ad contained "zero political content."

"God knows, I mean, I can't stop anybody from associating themselves with a message, but it was not intended to be any type of political overture on our part," he told WJR radio.

Chrysler averted collapse in 2009 thanks to a $12.5 billion bailout from Washington. Last week it announced its first profit in 11 years after seeing its sales in the United States grow 22 months in a row.

George Condon of National Journal said on the political magazine's website (nationaljournal.com) that it "gave a pretty good preview of what the president's re-election commercials might look like."

"And don't think that Team Obama wasn't watching the Super Bowl along with millions of other Americans and immediately grasped the boost they could get from the commercial," he added.

"White House political strategists must have been smiling," agreed Big Hollywood, a part of conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart's stable of websites. "It's a message ... that only can encourage the incumbent."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said neither the Obama administration nor the president's Democratic re-election team had anything to do with the commercial. "It was news to me when I saw it," Carney told reporters.

In his State of the Union address last month, Obama defended government support for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in their hour of need as proof that the US economy can be nursed back to rude health.

"What's happening in Detroit can happen in other industries," he said.

Obama's likely Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, whose father once ran now-defunct American Motors, has denounced the use of taxpayer money to support General Motors and Chrysler as "the wrong way to go."

Marchionne and Eastwood, who played a retired Detroit autoworker in his self-directed 2008 drama "Gran Torino," confirmed the actor-director would be donating his fees from the ad to charity.