LANSING, Mich. – Mitt Romney stood in front of an auto factory in his native Michigan during his 2008 presidential race and vowed to bring back jobs, a popular message that helped give him his first — and only — Republican primary victory.
He could run into a more skeptical reception this week as he makes his first campaign swing through Michigan since officially kicking off his 2012 campaign six days ago. After the election, Romney spoke out forcefully against a federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, an initiative that was seen as a matter of life or death for the companies by both parties in Michigan.
Democrats here are eager to remind voters now of Romney's position.
"I think that people who want to donate (to Romney) should be looking at, when the auto industry was asking for a donation, what he was saying," former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm said in an interview Tuesday on MSNBC. "I think they should give him the same answer."
The auto industry bailout may be a tough issue here for any Republican in the presidential race since many GOP leaders have blasted it as an example of government fiscal irresponsibility.
Democrats, including President Barack Obama, have trumpeted the federal intervention as a triumph, stressing that the companies are now doing well after going through bankruptcy and then restructuring. Chrysler has repaid most of the $10.5 billion in taxpayer money it received. GM has paid back just over half of its $50 billion in aid and is regaining market share. Together the companies have added about 50,000 jobs nationwide. The White House says the bailout ultimately will cost taxpayers $14 billion, far less than expected.
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said that Romney simply argued that GM and Chrysler should go through bankruptcy without the federal bailout. "If they had done it sooner, as Mitt Romney had suggested, the taxpayers would have saved a lot of money," Williams said.
Industry officials and others argue a federal rejection would have led to liquidation and the loss of more than one million jobs nationwide.
In his Michigan appearances, Romney is expected to argue that his background as a business consultant and venture capitalist give him the skills to help reverse the job loss that has given the state a 10.2 percent unemployment rate. The message echoes one used by former computer executive Rick Snyder in his successful 2010 campaign for Michigan governor.
Some Michigan Republicans say the party's voters still feel a kinship with Romney, who grew up in Detroit, and whose father, George, led American Motors from 1954 to 1962 before becoming governor.
"His family is steeped in the history of the auto industry. The tradition is part of his family," said Mike Bishop, a Rochester attorney and former Republican leader in the Michigan Senate. Bishop said he hasn't decided who he will support for president.
His advisers have said Romney is counting heavily on winning Florida and Michigan, although neither state has yet set a date for their 2012 contests.
Democrats and anti-Romney autoworkers plan to gather Thursday outside the Livonia diner in suburban Detroit where Romney is scheduled to make an early morning campaign stop. Romney also is expected to join a round-table discussion at a Detroit business development center Thursday morning. Romney had no trouble attracting supporters to fundraisers Tuesday and Wednesday in Grand Rapids and the well-heeled Detroit suburbs of Grosse Pointe and Birmingham.
In an op-ed piece published during the debate over the bailout in late 2008, Romney argued that the auto industry was on a "suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses."
Said Granholm, Romney "put his finger up in the air, saw which way the polls were headed, and he goes after his own home state."
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