What Auto Bailout? Romney Leads Obama in Michigan

Kate Hicks

6/20/2012 12:39:00 PM - Kate Hicks

The Obama campaign still has Michigan listed in their "probably ours" column, but that looks like it might be changing. More and more polls reveal that Mitt Romney and the incumbent president are locked in a statistical tie in the Great Lakes state, with voters slightly favoring Romney. In the latest data, We Ask America finds that Romney comes out ahead 45% to Obama's 43%, with a 3.1% margin of error. The male-to-female breakdown is interesting, too: Romney is gaining on the traditionally Democratic bloc.

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And that poll isn't the only one showing a tight race: the Wall Street Journal names two others, one with Romney down one, the other up one over Obama. Recall, back in 2008, that Obama won here in a 16-point blowout. In the ensuing four years, however, Michigan (my own home state!) has seen unemployment up to 14.2%, and GM go bankrupt despite the $80 billion auto bailout.

2010 saw an initial shift in ideological attitude, as Repulicans took over the state House and Senate, and Republican Rick Snyder won the gubernatorial election in a landslide. Compound that with the "home state advantage" principal, and Romney could put up a good showing in a state that's been a Democratic stalwart for a quarter of a century.

Romney, too, recognizes both the importance and significance of winning Michigan, and thinks he can win it -- and moreover, that it's the state that will make him president. 

“I think Michigan’s a state I can win,” Romney told reporters on the flight, noting playfully that the state is shaped like a mitt. “If I win in Michigan, then I become the president, and that would mean a lot to me personally.”

“Most people say that Michigan — ahh, out of touch, out of reach for a Republican. No way a Republican can win,” Romney said as he stumped outside the Sweetie-licious pie shop in DeWitt. “Regardless of whether or not you’re Republican or Democrat, the people of Michigan want someone who will get the job done… and I’ll do it.”

Romney’s campaign team puts Michigan in a second tier of key states — along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that are more traditionally Democratic and considered must-wins for Obama. They sense an opportunity to force Obama to defend Michigan, which he carried in 2008 by 16 percentage points, with plans for an advertising campaign and a lot of what one adviser called “Mitt time,” meaning candidate visits.

Romney's prospects in Michigan certainly seemed grim back in February, when the state held its primary and he struggled to best Rick Santorum. This is quite the turnaround from polls that had him 18 points behind Obama. Oddly, Romney's anti-auto bailout position -- an unpopular one in Michigan, where the bailouts were largely seen as crucial to the auto industry's survival -- haven't seemed to hurt him. It remains to be seen what kind of effort the Obama campaign will put into retaining Michigan, and for that matter, what sort of effect a negative campaign will have on Romney's stature in the state. Will Romney's anti-bailout position cost him? Or will his family history and clout prevail?