Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told a Michigan audience that he wouldn’t have bailed out General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC because the automakers would have recovered without federal assistance.
GM and Chrysler would be “alive and equally as well, or better off, than they are now,” Santorum told about 300 people at a Detroit Economic Club luncheon today. “The markets would have reacted to restructure it to be more competitive.”
As he scoffed at the bailout in the state that’s the center of the U.S. auto industry, Santorum drew a distinction between his position and that of his chief rival in the Republican race, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Both are vying for a win in the Feb. 28 primary in Michigan, where Romney was born.
“Governor Romney supported the bailout of Wall Street and decided not to support the bailout of Detroit,” Santorum said, referring to the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program aimed at financial institutions. “My feeling was the government should not be involved in bailouts, period. That’s a much more consistent position.”
Santorum, 53, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, is angling for an upset victory in Michigan. In response, Romney’s campaign is deploying top operatives there, initiating an advertising blitz and making plans to spend much of the next two weeks campaigning in the voter-rich southern region of the state.
The push follows polls showing Santorum rising in the state. Two surveys released Feb. 13 gave Santorum an edge over Romney, one by 15 percentage points and the other by six points. A Detroit News-WDIV poll released today put Santorum ahead, 34 percent to 30.4 percent. The telephone poll of 500 likely Republican primary voters was conducted Feb. 11-13 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Still, Romney, 64, holds an advantage in fundraising and the support of local party officials, and he was endorsed today by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
The contest has emerged as a pivotal battleground in the Republican presidential race. A Santorum victory would fuel his bare-bones candidacy, undercutting Romney’s status as the field’s presumptive front-runner.
Stakes for Romney
For Romney, anything short of a sizable win would be an embarrassment in a state where his father served as governor. Romney won Michigan’s primary four years ago in his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Arizona also holds a Feb. 28 primary, and Romney, Santorum and the two other remaining Republican presidential contenders - - former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas -- are to meet in the state for a Feb. 22 debate.
Romney’s campaign, though, said today he won’t participate in a scheduled March 1 debate in Georgia, one of the 11 states conducting nomination contests on March 6. “We will be campaigning in other parts of the country and unable to schedule the CNN Georgia debate,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.
Romney is also campaigning in Michigan today along with Snyder, who is supporting Romney even though he has disagreed with the candidate’s opposition to the auto industry bailout. In an op-ed column in the Detroit News on Feb. 14, Romney said that the industry “would be better” now if President Barack Obama hadn’t intervened.
Santorum noted that the federal financial help was started under President George W. Bush toward the end of his tenure in 2008.
“I actually blame President Bush more than I do President Obama,” Santorum said. “President Obama was just following suit.”
GM today said it earned $9.19 billion last year, the largest annual profit in the 103-year history of the Detroit- based company.
Snyder, in an op-ed column today in the Detroit News, focused on Romney’s background, saying he was “the man for the job” of president.
“Given his accomplishments, background, character, experience, ideas and intellect, Mitt Romney has what it takes to build a foundation for America’s success in this global economy,” Snyder wrote.
Other Romney supporters attacked Santorum during a conference call for reporters today.
“He’s a nice guy, but what has he done in his life? He’s been a senator, and he’s been a pundit,” said former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox. Borrowing from what he said is a common boxing insult, he added, “He ain’t run nothin’ but his mouth.”
Romney spotlighted his work as a private equity executive, drawing an implicit contrast with Santorum and Gingrich. Both Santorum and Gingrich did consulting work after leaving Congress.
“Working as a lobbyist and working as an elected official is great but in my view is it’s more important to also have private sector experience,” Romney told voters at a galvanized steel factory in Monroe, Michigan. “I’ve had that experience.”
It’s a line of attack the Romney campaign has been pushing hard against Santorum.
Restore Our Future, a group financed by Romney backers, plans to blanket the state’s airwaves with commercials labeling Santorum a “big spender” and “Washington insider.”
The group began airing a 30-second spot in the Lansing area early yesterday. A female narrator says that Santorum voted for an increase in the U.S. debt limit and for “billions in wasteful projects,” including an Alaska road project that became known as the Bridge to Nowhere and symbolized the earmarking process in Congress used by lawmakers to funnel tax dollars to pet programs.
Restore Our Future has spent about $886,000 producing and placing ads in Michigan that oppose Santorum, according to U.S. Federal Election Commission reports filed Feb. 15.
The pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund has purchased $700,000 worth of TV airtime in Michigan and the ads have begun running, according New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, a company that tracks advertising.
Paul and Gingrich, as well as super-PACs supporting them, have been quiet on broadcast airwaves this week. Gingrich is campaigning in Los Angeles today, while Paul held a rally in Idaho and travels later to Washington state.
--With assistance from Lisa Lerer in Kentwood, Michigan, Greg Giroux, Julie Bykowicz, John McCormick and Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington. Editors: Don Frederick, Jim Rubin.
To contact the reporters on this story: Kristin Jensen in Washington at email@example.com; Chris Christoff in Detroit at firstname.lastname@example.org
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