Romney Campaigns In Michigan Against Car Bailout

Michigan is expected to be a battleground in next year's presidential election. The state has a double-digit jobless rate but also has an auto industry that's being revived after getting federal help in 2009. President Obama points to that as a success story. But Republican candidates maintain the bailout was a bad idea. Among them, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney — a Michigan native whose father once ran a car company.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep. As we head into the election year, expect plenty of discussion of Michigan. It's a presidential swing state, and at the center of some of the economic trauma of the past several years. The state still has double-digit jobless rates and is also home to a reviving auto industry. President Obama considers that a success. GM and Chrysler survived with billions of dollars in federal help.

Republican presidential candidates are critical. And that includes Mitt Romney, a Michigan native whose father once ran a car company. Romney has been campaigning in Michigan, and NPR's Don Gonyea has been watching.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: We don't yet know which Republican will get the nomination to take on President Obama next year. But if you listen to this attack ad from the Democratic National Committee, it's clear that Democrats are eying a certain matchup at this point - with Mitt Romney.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: You wouldn't know he was from around here.

MITT ROMNEY: Let Detroit go bankrupt.

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: This city, where American rubber meets the road, a town that's been to hell and back. So what was his answer for the Motor City?.

ROMNEY: Let Detroit go bankrupt.

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Now he's coming back, asking for our votes.

GONYEA: The ad goes after Romney for saying that no federal money should have been used for aid to General Motors and Chrysler as they struggled to survive back in 2009. Romney, in a debate on CNBC in Michigan two nights ago, defended his position.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

ROMNEY: I said from the very beginning they should go through a managed bankruptcy process, a private bankruptcy process.

GONYEA: He called the tens of billions in federal aid, quote, wasted.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

ROMNEY: My plan - we would have had a private-sector bailout with the private sector restructuring, and bankruptcy with the private sector guiding the direction - as opposed to what we had, with government playing its heavy hand.

GONYEA: Romney speaks as someone with deep ties to this state - and as one who knows the industry and its ways. He grew up here; his dad was governor and CEO of American Motors. At nearly every campaign event, Romney looks back. He did so again yesterday, at a rally in the Detroit suburb of Troy.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

ROMNEY: Back in the 1950s, Michigan had the highest income per person of any state in America. What a state this has been. We had the technology, the innovation. Anne's dad, he came here; went to work in the auto industry. His job - or his schooling was at the General Motors Institute of Technology.

GONYEA: But United Auto Workers President Bob King says there's a disconnect. Romney has such fond memories of the state and its key industry, but his proposed fix would have been devastating, according to King. He says there's no evidence that the private sector would have saved GM and Chrysler.

BOB KING: You can talk to General Motors executives; you can talk to people in the financial arena. There was no money. If they had gone through a normal bankruptcy process, they would have been liquidated. There was no financial institution willing to lend money to the companies. The only possible source of the loan was the government. And so really, there would not have been an industry.

GONYEA: The independent Center for Automotive Research, in Ann Arbor, says its analysis supports that view. But in staking out his position, Romney is in line with all of his competitors for the Republican nomination. One prominent Republican with a different take, however, is Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who took office in January. He talked to NPR this week.

GOV. RICK SNYDER: I'm a strong believer in the free-enterprise system, free market. And if you're talking about any one company going bankrupt, that's what the system's there for.

GONYEA: While Mitt Romney argues that that should have been the approach with GM and Chrysler, Snyder says no; that this was about a lot more than just these two, individual companies.

SNYDER: It would have brought down the whole supply chain. And it would have put Ford in bankruptcy, along with hundreds of suppliers. So that's a much different circumstance than saying you're talking about one, individual company with some ancillary damage.

GONYEA: Still, Governor Snyder says the debate over the bailout should not occupy a great deal of time in the 2012 presidential campaign. In Michigan, at least, don't count on that.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Detroit.

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