With Michigan in Play, Auto Bailout to Get Obama Spotlight

Photograph by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/General Motors Co. via Bloomberg

President Barack Obama gets out of a General Motors Co. (GM) Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle in Holland, Michigan.

Democrats may be holding their national convention in North Carolina, but part of the spotlight when they gather next week will be on Michigan. Specifically, the bailout of two of that state’s iconic auto firms — GM and Chrysler — that President Barack Obama kept on track and that Mitt Romney, a Michiganer by birth, opposed.

Here’s one surprising reason for that planned focus: Michigan, which since 1992 has been part of every Democratic presidential candidate’s base, clearly is in play this year. And that’s not good news for Obama’s re-election hopes.

A poll of state voters released earlier this week by Lansing, Michigan-based EPIC-MRA showed the president with a skimpy three-point lead over Romney, 49 percent to 46 percent. That was down from a six-point Obama advantage the pollsters had recorded in July. And the latest poll was completed before Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan made his prime-time convention pitch on Wednesday night and Romney wrapped up the proceedings with his acceptance speech last night.

“It’s tightening up,” EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn told the Detroit Free Press of the Michigan race. “It could be even after Romney’s speech.”

The bailout that so clearly divides the president and his Republican challenger is “certainly something we want to talk about” at the convention, Obama political adviser David Axelrod said in a conference call with reporters today.

Axelrod touted Obama’s “courageous decision” in backing the bailout, saying that as the president had to make that call early in his term, “the politics were not on the side of intervening to save the American auto industry.”

That message no doubt will be echoed at the Democratic conclave, as will the one delivered during the same conference call by Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter. As part of generally trashing Romney’s acceptance speech, she said he “reminisced about the greatness of the American auto industry but he never mentioned that he would have let Detroit go bankrupt.”

Romney put another upper-Midwest state that typically goes Democratic — Wisconsin, with 10 electoral votes — up for grabs when he put Ryan, a deeply rooted native son of that state, on his ticket.

Having to worry about Michigan and its 16 electoral votes is another headache the Obama forces didn’t need. And if during the campaign”s waning days the president is making time to work the state, that will be a particularly troublesome sign for Democrats everywhere.

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