ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney faces an uphill battle to win his native state of Michigan in the November general election. President Barack Obama currently enjoys a lead there in early opinion polls, thanks to support from Michigan’s auto workers and Romney’s own public statements.
In November, Michigan college student Zachary Harner will cast his first vote in a presidential election. He said that vote will go to fellow Michigan native Romney.
“He was born in Detroit. His father was governor of Michigan,” said Harner.
Harner is from western Michigan, where growing up on a farm he learned the values of hard work, something he thinks Romney appreciates.
“I wake up at 3 in the morning, I come home at 10 at night," said Harner. "I know what hard work is, and I [that] resonate(s) with Romney.”
That kind of support is harder to find among workers in Detroit, Michigan’s largest city and home to the “Big 3” U.S. automakers.
In 2008, when the auto industry sought government assistance to avoid financial collapse, Romney wrote an editorial for the New York Times headlined, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
That did not sit well with longtime Detroit autoworker George McGregor, who believes many automotive jobs in the place where Romney was born were saved because of the government financial help.
“This is his home state, and he’s not going to win Michigan. No he’s not,” said McGregor.
McGregor is now president of a local United Auto Workers union in Detroit that serves almost 2,000 current workers and more than 5,000 retirees. He said statements secretly recorded at a May fundraiser where Romney referred to 47 percent of Americans as “victims” dependent on government assistance further upset many union members.
“They are part of the 47 percent, and it hurt them, because most of them worked 30 plus years, paid taxes, paid into social security. For an American to say that about another American is wrong,” he said.
McGregor says Romney’s criticism of President Obama’s health care legislation and Romney’s lack of support for government bailouts to the U.S. auto industry have all but assured President Obama a win here in November in his view.
“Michigan is looking less and less like a swing state every day,” said University of Michigan Political Science Professor Michael Heaney. He said Obama’s lead in recent polls is much less than his winning margin in the state in the 2008 election.
“The Michigan economy has been hit hard because of the Great Recession, and even though the Great Recession began before Obama became president, still because he is president, he bears some responsibility, and voters do hold him responsible for that. So these economic factors have really hurt Obama’s lead here,” said Heaney.
Harner hopes those economic factors will help Romney close the gap in Michigan once the public sees him challenge the president in televised debates in October.