Auto Bailout A Chief Topic For Michigan Voters
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish. We begin this hour on the campaign trail. After last night's bruising GOP debate in Mesa, Arizona, Rick Santorum appeared at one event today, a fundraiser in Texas.
BLOCK: Meanwhile, Mitt Romney divided his time. He began the day in Phoenix, where he largely blamed President Obama for a massive drop in home values there and a spike in the unemployment rate.
MITT ROMNEY: The American promise has been broken and I think it's been broken by a president whose policies have, in almost every single circumstance, been the opposite of what was needed to turn this economy around.
BLOCK: Mitt Romney ends his day today in Michigan and, as in Arizona, the economy is the number one issue for most voters there. The state's manufacturing sector has been struggling for more than a decade.
CORNISH: Its auto companies are again making money but they employ fewer workers and the jobless rate remains well above the national average. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has this closer look at the Michigan economy and how the candidates are talking about it.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It seems there's always a but when you talk about how things are going with the Michigan economy these days. Things are improving, but the recovery is far from complete. General Motors and Chrysler have survived and are making money, but they still face huge challenges. Some businesses are on their way back, but others are still waiting.
Take this one business as an example, the Olympic Grill, located near GM and Chrysler plants in the town of Center Line in Macomb County. Rocky Ivezaj is the owner. He talks through the window to the kitchen. The grill sizzles as he speaks.
ROCKY IVEZAJ: We just doing okay. We need more money, more work here, more business.
GONYEA: Have you been holding your own the last couple of years?
IVEZAJ: It's slowly picking up a little bit. Not much.
IVEZAJ: Very slow.
GONYEA: He then points to one of his employees and tells me to talk to her - 24-year-old Andrea Leon(ph) is working behind the counter wrapping silverware into napkins.
ANDREA LEON: It's been really bad. Since I started working, it has just decreased. Less business, less hours for the workers, less workers.
GONYEA: Leon says she gets less in tips and her income is down. And so it goes in Michigan. Some see improvement, even if slow, others aren't feeling it yet. Doug Roberts is a former Republican state treasurer. He now runs a public policy institute at Michigan State University. He says Michigan voters have been shaped by what they've been through over the past decade.
DOUG ROBERTS, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: Manufacturing employment declined by two-thirds and that was around 250,000 jobs that we've lost over that period of that time. I mean, these are statistics. So, when somebody says, well, Michigan is getting better, it is getting better. But it gives you an idea of how difficult it's been in this state for not just a couple of years, but in fact, an entire decade.
GONYEA: The only two candidates who've spent time in Michigan this past week are Mitt Romney, who grew up here, and Rick Santorum. Each says President Obama's policies have hurt the state. Both offer what they say is the formula for bringing manufacturing jobs back – cutting business taxes, limiting the strength of labor unions and slashing regulations. Here's Santorum.
RICK SANTORUM: Manufacturing will come back. We're gonna cut the corporate rate to zero for manufacturers, so we can compete on an even playing field. And jobs will be coming back here to Muskogee, they'll be coming back to small towns all over America. Why? Because that's where manufacturing jobs go, they do to small town America.
GONYEA: Santorum and Romney, as well as Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, oppose federal aid that helped GM and Chrysler survive. Romney has had to explain that position more than the others, given that he is from Michigan and because he penned a New York Times op-ed piece in 2008 under the headline – Let Detroit Go Bankrupt. He was asked about it by a skeptical voter on Tuesday at this town hall in Shelby Township. Romney offered some context.
ROMNEY: Back in November of 2008, when the auto executives got in their private aircraft and flew to Washington and asked for a bail out, I said don't write the check. They need to go through a managed bankruptcy first.
GONYEA: The auto bail out will likely be a huge issue in Michigan in the general election. Then you'll have a president who says it saved the industry and a GOP nominee arguing it wasn't needed. But Michigan University's Doug Roberts says in next week's Republican primary, it's not a defining issue.
UNIVERSITY: Between the Republican candidates, I cannot honestly say one candidate wins over the other one based on, quote, the economy.
GONYEA: And given that, Roberts says, GOP primary voters will have to find other things to base their vote on next week. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Lansing, Michigan.
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