In Michigan, Obama Team Builds On 2008 Foundation

Democrats are using next week's GOP presidential primary in Michigan as an opportunity to energize President Obama's core base of support there. The campaign and a superPAC have ads on the air in the state. And the campaign is organizing activities for the president's supporters.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, when Mitt Romney speaks today at the Detroit Economic Club, he will be met by protesters and a banner that reads: Romney Said Let Detroit Go Bankrupt. That was the headline on a 2008 opinion piece that Romney wrote opposing a taxpayer bailout for two of the Detroit car companies, GM and Chrysler.

And Democrats are missing no opportunity to remind voters of that, as we hear from Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: That Let Detroit Go Bankrupt banner spends most of its time hanging in the Obama for America headquarters in Detroit. But it comes down off the wall whenever native son Mitt Romney visits Michigan.

At a Romney speech in a Detroit suburb, a group of Obama volunteers are holding it outside in a light rain.

TIM BOYER: That's why I think Santorum is leading in the polls right now, is because of this quote right here, among other things.

PLUTA: Tim Boyer, sporting a Detroit Tigers cap and jacket, holds up one end of the banner.

BOYER: We got to make sure that people driving by here know that the other side is out there working just as hard as Romney's working.

PLUTA: While Republicans are figuring out whether their nominee will be Romney, Rick Santorum or someone else, Democrats are focused on their long game - fundraising and building a volunteer network and making sure their message doesn't get lost. Matt McGrath is the Michigan press secretary for Obama for America.

MATT MCGRATH: The foundation was laid in 2008, and Michigan is a good example - it's never left. We've kept a presence and now we're just expanding again outward on top of that. But we'd like to think it's better, it's streamlined and, you know, it's a Corvette, a speedy American car.

PLUTA: So each time Romney, Santorum or any other Republican slams President Obama...

MITT ROMNEY: He's taking us a path to become like Greece, or worse.

RICK SANTORUM: Ladies and gentlemen, this president is going out and undermining our economy.

PLUTA: Surrogates, such as veteran Michigan Congressman John Dingell, are dispatched to respond, usually to Romney but increasingly often now to Santorum.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN DINGELL: They seem to have a distinct allergy to the truth. That's the reason we're here before you, so that we can help them recall the facts and hope the voters will profit from hearing the Republicans speak the truth, something which happens only occasionally.

PLUTA: Republicans have campaign ads running in Michigan, like this Romney spot...

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

ROMNEY: ...President Obama did all these things the liberals have wanted to do for years, and the fact that you've got millions of Americans out of work, home values collapsing...

PLUTA: So even though the president has no primary opponent, starting today in Michigan the Obama campaign has an ad that defends his record on the auto industry.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Every Republican candidate turned their back, even said let Detroit go bankrupt. Not him.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Don't bet against the American auto industry.

PLUTA: The Obama campaign has about a dozen paid staff in Michigan already and, it says, thousands of volunteers running voter registration drives, organizing house parties and recruiting more volunteers.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm calling because, for Organizing America, we're the grassroots working with, to elect President Obama and...

PLUTA: A neighborhood phone bank is making phone calls to voters to identify supporters and recruit volunteers. There are nine people scattered around the house with call lists in front of them and cell phones pressed to their ears.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Is this something that you could perhaps join us? We are...

PLUTA: Democrats figure the focus on presidential politics, even if it is mostly on Republican politics, still presents them with an opportunity to organize with an eye toward November. That's made February a good time to get the campaign into gear in Michigan, and the Obama camp says it will do the same in other battleground states as the primaries continue. For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta in Okemos, Michigan.

INSKEEP: For all the focus on the economy, social issues have become a big part of the conversation in 2012. In some states those issues may include gay marriage. Maryland is now poised to become the eighth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley says he's going to sign that bill into law next week after approval last night from the state senate. Opponents of the measure are expected to call for a referendum on the law, putting the final say in the hands of Maryland voters.

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