Here are two people you won't find touring a General Motors plant during the
political season this fall: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
GM, saved by federal loans a few years ago, desperately wants to avoid becoming the centerpiece of campaign rhetoric. So it has banned candidates from its plants at least until after Election Day, Nov. 6, despite the fact that the U.S. Treasury remains its largest shareholder.
The Detroit car giant wants to be viewed as a success story -- not the arm of any campaign. After all, Democrats, Republicans and independents all buy vehicles.
"We would like to put all of our energy behind selling our cars and trucks," said Bob Ferguson, GM's vice president for global public policy. "It's an understatement to say we can't wait for November to get here."
GM and experts say the company has been intentionally less visible in lobbying on some federal issues and is, in effect, taking cover until the election is over.
But the company is stuck uncomfortably in a spotlighted middle after emerging from the Great Recession and its 2009 federally financed bankruptcy. The Treasury Department, which provided $49.5 billion to bail out GM, still owns 32% of the new GM's common stock, despite getting repaid more than $23 billion so far.
Obama takes credit for GM's survival, saying in February that the auto industry had added 200,000 jobs since 2009. But Romney tries to use the bailout against the president as a poor and expensive deal for taxpayers. The candidates are expected to continue bashing each other with the auto industry bailout and the ins and outs of GM's near-death and revival.
In Detroit on Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden sounded a now-familiar campaign refrain that makes GM executives cringe: "Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive."
GM is branded "Government Motors" by Obama's critics but hailed by his supporters as a testament to his leadership in saving GM and Chrysler. The efforts began in the administration of President George W. Bush -- which GM CEO Dan Akerson is quick to point out.
The president's campaign is expected to make the auto bailout a key element of the Democratic National Convention during the first week of September in Charlotte, N.C.
Chrysler paid back all of its bankruptcy loans from the Treasury and has largely avoided becoming part of the political campaign debate, though the now-Italian-owned company did say on Thursday that it also has banned campaign visits to its facilities.
The Romney campaign has tried to turn the bailout to its advantage, accusing the president of bungling it by preserving UAW benefits at the expense of bondholders who lost billions.
His campaign also has noted the bailout wasn't good for everyone, running an ad in swing state Ohio noting that many dealers were hurt in the process by having their dealerships shut down or downsized.
But Romney has a potential bailout problem, too, ever since he penned a November 2008 op-ed for the New York Times that ran under the headline, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Even so, some have argued that Romney did push for a similar structured bankruptcy as was implemented by the Obama administration for GM and Chrysler and that he should share any credit.
Romney, a Michigan native and former Massachusetts governor, is slated to
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