Will the Auto Bailout Factor in Michigan?

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In endorsing Mitt Romney for President, the editorial board of the Detroit News argues that, at least for now, it does not:

We disagree with Romney on a point vital to Michigan — his opposition to the bailout of the domestic automobile industry. Romney advocated for a more traditional bankruptcy process, while we believe the bridge loans provided by the federal government in the fall of 2008 were absolutely essential to the survival of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. The issue isn’t a differentiator in the GOP primary, since the entire field opposed the rescue effort.

This last part is true, although Romney, both responding to journalists and mounting his own pro-active defense of the now famous “let Detroit go bankrupt” op-ed from 2008, has talked a lot more about his opposition to the rescue plan in recent weeks than any other candidate. So does this have an appreciable political effect? Yes and no.

In the primary, it really looks like a wash. Public Policy Polling this week found a third of Republicans there say they’re more likely to vote for someone who opposed the rescue, compared to 27% who see it as a liability and 35% who say they don’t care. The general election numbers are different though. Obama leads the GOP field by around 20 points in Michigan, according to Marist, in part on strength derived from the popular auto bailout: 63% of voters say it was a good thing, including 42% of Republicans, and most think Obama deserves credit for the policy.

That might explain why Romney seized the opportunity of a primary campaign to try to shore up his position. Democrats are moving as well. Here’s an ad from the Obama-backing super PAC Priorities USA running this week in Michigan with $238,000 behind it.

If you listen carefully, you’ll hear Romney say the word “bankrupt” 12 times.

Update: The Obama campaign follows up with a more positive spot of its own on the auto bailout to run in Michigan:

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