The Treasury Department projects that taxpayers will end up paying about $25 billion on net for the auto assistance. In the final days of an exceedingly tight reelection campaign against Republican Mitt Romney, that $25 billion decision is looming much larger for Obama than his signature $800 billion stimulus bill.

Because of Ohio.

There’s no indication politics were on Obama’s mind, or that of his aides, when he decided in 2010 to offer GM and Chrysler an $85 billion lifeline — about $60 billion of which has been or is projected to be recouped. The money was aimed at preventing an auto supply-chain collapse across the Rust Belt, and the administration was attempting to sav about 1 million jobs, in the estimation of the nonpartisan Center for Automotive Research.

Fast forward to election eve and the political force of that assistance is clear. Despite running neck-and-neck with Romney nationally and across swing states such as Colorado and Virginia, Obama continues to hold a small but meaningful lead in Ohio in most public polls. If he keeps that lead on Election Day, Ohio could put him over the top for a second term. Many political operatives say that the auto assistance has made all the difference for Obama in the Buckeye State and its auto-production-heavy neighbors.