February 28th, 2012
10:45 AM ET
(CNN) – Michigan is a two hour plane ride from Washington, but President Obama on Tuesday will only have to travel a couple miles north of the White House to campaign there.
Close to 2,000 auto workers meeting in the nation’s capital this week constitute a key bloc of support for the president’s reelection campaign as it looks to put Michigan in the win column next November.
The White House maintains Obama’s appearance at the annual United Auto Workers Conference isn’t a political event. But the overtones of the president’s impending reelection fight are anything but subtle as he will implicitly contrast his record of supporting a bailout of the auto industry three years ago with that of leading presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
The political calculus is obvious: according to the Obama campaign, close to 22 percent of Michigan’s workforce is supported by the auto industry. That amounts to a significant swath of voters in a key swing state who the president is hoping are receptive to his argument that his actions saved hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Meanwhile, the Republican White House hopefuls have had to awkwardly navigate their positions that the $80 billion government bailout of the industry was a mistake - a stance that polls show even half of Michigan Republicans disagree with, including the state’s GOP governor.
The White House has long regarded the president’s support of the auto industry bailout as among his signature domestic achievements, arguing the alternative would have led to more than a million job losses, the evaporation of iconic American companies, and potentially proven to be the final nail in the coffin for Detroit’s reeling economy. Romney, Santorum and other opponents of the bailout have said a structured bankruptcy could have achieved the same result without the massive cost to the U.S. government. Moreover, these Republicans argue, no government help would have forced unions like the UAW to make more concessions.
But the president’s position is buoyed by General Motor’s resurgence as the largest automaker in world and the fact that all three big automakers are posting profits for the first time in seven years. Meanwhile, the industry has said it expects to add at least 150,000 more jobs by the end of 2015. In addition, nearly all of the $80 billion in bailout funds has been recouped by the government.
It all amounts to a record the President is convinced will be a winning one - not only in Michigan but in several rust belt states where the health of the American auto industry is key to the broader health of the economy.
“Change is the decision to rescue the American auto industry from collapse,” Obama said at a fundraiser last week, before adding a not-so veiled dig at his potential GOP opponents:
“You remember there were a lot of people who didn’t believe in that.”