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Was the auto bailout Mitt Romney's idea?

Mitt Romney is saying that the auto bailout looks a lot like what he suggested in 2008. Yes, and no. But there are good reasons why Romney's bringing it up – and why Dems are fighting back.

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For these and other reasons, top Democrats have pushed back against Romney’s assertions, saying that if it was up to him we’d all be driving foreign cars. Romney is “trying to run away” from his previous stand on helping the auto industry, said Democratic National Committee chairman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) of Florida at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor last week.

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Why the tussle over GMC Tahoes? It’s a bit early in the 2012 cycle for interparty squabbles over such a specific issue, isn’t it? Yes – but we can think of a number of reasons why this is in the news now.

Michigan could be key to the GOP race. Under current state law Michigan is set to hold its primary on Feb. 28, 2012. That’s early (earlier than the Republican National Committee wants it to be, in fact). If the date holds, Michigan could be a key player in deciding whether front-runner Romney builds early momentum.

Democrats want to ding Romney on economics. This time around, Romney is making economic competence the core of his campaign. That was clear from his official announcement that he’s entering the race. “I believe I can get our economy going again,” he said on Thursday.

Challenging Romney on the auto issue might be a way for Dems to tarnish his executive image.

Autos equal America. The firms that used to be called the Big Three have long been an image of US strength and ingenuity, the Ford Pinto and the Olds Starfire notwithstanding. In political terms, arguing over who saved Detroit might be a proxy battle for which candidate is more truly attuned to American values.

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz last week at the Monitor breakfast said of some GOP candidates: “I’m concerned about their commitment to American exceptionalism.” Republicans say the same thing about Mr. Obama. On Friday, for example, Romney ridiculed the president for his “awfully European” economic policies.

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