Romney advisers say they're confident he'll win the Wolverine State. "In the final analysis, I would bet he's going to carry Michigan," Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, a Romney backer and for four decades a major figure in the state's Republican politics, said in an interview.
Would he bet the farm?
The blunt-spoken Patterson paused. "I'd bet my wife's half of the farm," he said, laughing. Then he quickly repeated his prediction of victory.
Auto bailout in the Motor City
One awkward issue here for both contenders: the federal bailout of the auto industry.
Romney and Santorum opposed the rescue plan as a Big Government intrusion in the free market. In a 2008 op-ed article that The New York Times headlined "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," Romney warned that with a bailout, "You can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye." Santorum says he would have voted against it as well.
On Thursday, just before Santorum arrived at the Cobo Center to address the Detroit Economic Club, General Motors (its world headquarters is down the street at the Renaissance Center) posted a record $7.6 billion profit for 2011. U.S. taxpayers continue to own 30% of the company, which has paid back $26 billion of the $49.5 billion bailout.
The steps the government took were "injurious to capitalism," Santorum told the luncheon crowd of business executives and others, which listened politely but didn't applaud. "If they had just stayed out of it completely and let the market work I think it would be alive and equally well, if not better."
Romney is scheduled to address the same group this Friday, drawing so many reservations that it has been moved to Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play. He also has doubled down on his opposition to the bailout, arguing at a roundtable with small-business owners and others in Grand Rapids that the Obama administration eventually implemented the "managed bankruptcy" he had espoused.
Others dispute that. Officials in the George W. Bush administration, which began the bailout, and the Obama administration, which expanded it, say GM and Chrysler wouldn't have been able to get funding for a managed bankruptcy without the government loans. Even some Romney supporters think the action may have prevented the demise of an iconic American industry.
"I'm philosophically against the bailouts," says Bill McKee, 54, an attorney in Grand Rapids who is likely to vote for Romney in the primary, "but it seems to have allowed them enough breathing room to get out from under the legacy costs" -- that is, the costs of health care and pension agreements from past labor agreements.
Among autoworkers and union members more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, Romney's opposition to the bailout has inflamed opposition to him for a general election in this battleground state.
A group of retired blue-collar workers who gather for coffee each morning in Utica, 5 miles from the Sterling Heights plant where Chrysler makes convertibles and Dodge Avengers, blast Romney as a turncoat who betrayed the city where he was born. "How can you say he's a native son?" demands Terry Wolf, 49, who used to work for Chrysler. "He can stay out of Michigan."
"He's anti-labor, anti-worker," says Larry Maierle, 70, retired from the circulation department of The Detroit News.
"All the automakers -- he wanted them all to fail," scoffs Vasel Djelaj, 62, a GM retiree.
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