Will Mitt Romney's aversion to the auto bailout hurt him in Michigan?

Mitt Romney’s defense of his stance on the auto bailout is difficult to parse. Romney was against the bailout before he was for it, except not the bailout that happened, or something like that.

Gerald Herbert/AP
Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Mesa, Ariz., Monday.

Will Mitt Romney’s past opposition to the auto bailouts mean trouble for him in the upcoming Michigan primary? You’d think that would be the case. Michigan’s economy is pretty much all autos, all the time. Even the Republican car executives who live in gilded Grosse Pointe and Bloomfield Hills know that their jobs might have been nothing but tailpipe exhaust if Washington hadn’t used taxpayer cash to help GM and Chrysler.

Plus, Mr. Romney’s obviously still sensitive on the subject. He’s got an opinion piece in Tuesday’s edition of the Detroit News arguing the merits of his position. In it, he says it’s “indisputably good news” that GM and Chrysler are still in business. He points out that he grew up in Michigan drinking Vernor’s ginger ale and going to Tigers games. His dad George was head of American Motors. (His campaign released a new ad emphasizing his roots in Michigan - see below)

(Have you ever had Vernor’s? It’s the Ndamukong Suh of soda pop. Take a sip and you’ll think they made a mistake at the factory and you’re drinking undiluted ginger ale syrup base.)

Then Romney goes on to say that the managed bankruptcy that the Obama administration arranged for the Tottering Two is just what he would have done, except he would have done it differently. The unions got too sweet a deal, and the person the administration chose to run the bailouts, Steven Rattner, was “ethically challenged.”

“This was crony capitalism on a grand scale. The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better,” wrote Romney.

Well, we’ll say this: Romney’s argument is difficult to parse. He was against the bailout before he was for it, except not the bailout that happened, or something like that. At time of writing, the commenters on the Detroit News website weren’t buying it – they were 90 percent highly negative of Romney’s piece.

But the surprising thing is that Romney’s bailout stance might not be the reason he’s now behind Rick Santorum in polls of the Michigan GOP electorate, after all.

Public Policy Polling included a bailout question on its recent Michigan survey, and 62 percent of state GOP voters said they opposed the move. “Romney stance not bad for primary,” PPP tweeted on Feb.14.

When you add in Democrats and independents, however, Michigan voters do support the bailout, by 52 to 36 percent. So it’s an issue that could haunt Romney in the fall, if he wins the nomination.

However, the PPP survey did point out a surprising weakness for Romney in the upcoming GOP vote. Republican Michiganders do not consider the former Massachusetts governor to be one of them. He gets no home-state advantage for the years he spent watching Al Kaline light up the American League.

A whopping 62 percent of GOP respondents said they did not consider Romney a Michigander, according to PPP.

“Romney really doesn’t have some great reservoir of goodwill in Michigan to fall back on,” according to a PPP analysis.

His favorability ratings are in free fall in the Mitten State as a result. Only 49 percent of likely GOP primary voters have a good impression of him, down from 61 percent last July.

That’s perhaps why Santorum has vaulted past Romney into the lead in Michigan polls. PPP has Santorum over Romney by 39 to 24 percent. An American Research Group survey has Santorum up 33 to 27 percent.

Well, for Romney there’s at least this: Maybe he doesn’t have to pretend to like Vernor’s, if he really doesn’t.

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