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February 13, 2012

Auto Industry Recovery Key Issue for Michigan Voters

by Kane Farabaugh

The U.S. auto industry is rebounding from some of the worst sales years on record.  Now, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler are reporting strong profits.  The health of the auto industry - and prior government loans to several manufacturers - are key issues for voters in Michigan’s Republican primary in late February, as well as the general election in November.

On the floor of auto shows across the country, the prevailing theme is that U.S. auto companies, headquartered in Detroit, are back and as competitive as ever.

“It’s not back, it’s always been here,” said Democratic Congressman John Dingle, who represents Detroit.

Dingle says government action saved jobs.

“We have helped the auto industry over a rough patch," he said.  "It is a great national treasure and a tremendous resource, and it was very, very important to the United States that we save that industry because it produces one in seven jobs in this economy. And it's a treasure that every nation in the world wants to have.”

That’s what Dingle wants to hear President Obama promote as he campaigns for re-election.

"It won’t help some of the people on the other side who say that Detroit should have been left to go bankrupt,” he said.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and other Republican presidential candidates are critical of multi-billion-dollar government loans to U.S. auto companies.  

Romney is the son of a former Michigan governor and auto industry executive.  But University of Michigan economics professor Bruce Pietrykowski says Romney's stance against auto industry loans will not win him voter support.

“I think people will take a good hard look at that and what might have happened if he was president - he wouldn’t have supported the support for auto industry - and I think that might turn some people off, quite honestly,” he said.

That is something Michigan’s current Republican Governor Rick Snyder is keenly aware of.

“I don’t criticize people over the bailout, because the way I viewed it is, it wasn’t about simply about the bankruptcy of one company or two companies, you were talking about the whole supply chain,” he said.

“I think there is probably some sentiment that this was an unnecessary government intrusion and we should have not supported them, but by and large at least in the centers of population, and the Democratic strongholds, in and around Detroit, the policy is going to be seen in quite a favorable light,” said economics professor Bruce Pietrykowski.

Autoworkers union president George McGregor see it favorably and wants President Obama to talk more about the bailouts on the campaign trail.

"He hasn't used it yet for a platform for getting re-elected here in the state of Michigan, but we're going to use it for him whether he uses it or not," he said.

Support, or lack of it, for the bailouts is already influencing Michigan’s upcoming Republican primary.  Recent polling indicates native son Mitt Romney trails former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum in that state’s nominating contest February 28.