February 21, 2020

Obama Visits Michigan as Auto Jobs Come Back

He has returned again and again, nine times since taking office, to argue that his decision to bail out two of the Big Three automakers helped workers here and across the industrial Midwest. He has offered up a rebuttal to criticism about the value of government intervention.

The president’s path to a second term is built around winning a wide swath of states, including many with close ties to the auto industry. They are home to some of his biggest political and substantive challenges, including a depressed economy, a disenchanted middle class and a disdain for government highlighted by the Tea Party movement.

A handful of states he carried in 2008 could slip away, but Democrats believe Mr. Obama cannot lose Michigan, fearing that other states will be even harder to hold. Shifting demographics and deep economic burdens have snapped the Democratic Party’s recent hold on the state and given Republicans confidence that Michigan is again one of the country’s most fiercely competitive battlegrounds.

Mitt Romney, who was born in Michigan and chose the birthplace of the American automobile to announce his presidential bid at the Henry Ford Museum four years ago, has denounced the rescue of the industry. He repeated his position at a Republican presidential debate this week, declaring: “Should they have used the funds to bail out General Motors and Chrysler? No, that was the wrong source for that funding.”

But more than two years after the White House offered a government lifeline to help the industry survive the recession and a credit crunch, the General Motors assembly plant here has roared to life, producing the only subcompact car made on American soil, the Chevrolet Sonic.

On Friday, Mr. Obama will tour a downsized version of the plant in Lake Orion, which President Ronald Reagan came to dedicate in 1984. Reagan won the White House with the help of middle-class Democrats in the suburbs of Detroit, including Oakland County, whose mix of independent voters and upper-income residents makes it a bellwether for Mr. Obama.

Monica Shepard, who has worked at General Motors for three decades as an electrician, remembers the day that Mr. Reagan visited. She conceded that Mr. Obama may not be as popular, but she said many people here were grateful, even if the restructuring created a two-tiered system under which nonunion workers are paid a fraction of previous wages.

“Every small businessman that I know, they’re all glad the president bailed out General Motors because without that, the whole area would be obliterated,” said Ms. Shepard, 54, as she left her afternoon shift the other day. “I voted for him to do a job and I would like to see him follow through.”

As the presidential race intensifies, Michigan will become more than a trove of 16 electoral votes. It will be a virtual laboratory for some of the most central themes of the campaign in a state that embodies the changing face of the nation’s economy.

If Republicans carry the state for the first time since 1988 in a presidential race — an outcome that advisers to Mr. Obama strongly dismiss — he will probably face a similar erosion of support across Ohio, Pennsylvania and other Rust Belt states. But even if Mr. Obama wins the state, where independent voters and some Republicans may be inclined to support him because of jobs created by the slow revival of the auto industry, the bailout argument could carry significant weight elsewhere.

“I don’t see how you win the White House without Michigan,” said Stan Greenberg, a Democrat, who has been conducting polls and studying Michigan politics since 1982. “I do not assume that Michigan will fall back into being a blue state. It will be on the edge.”

The president’s argument — and early signs of a potential revival of support — will be tested here in Oakland County, a Republican stronghold that Mr. Reagan carried by 22 points in 1980. It steadily gravitated toward the Democratic Party, with George W. Bush narrowly losing in 2000 and 2004. Mr. Obama won the county by 15 points four years ago, but the Republican candidate for governor, Rick Snyder, carried it last year by more than 20 points.

“The whole wave he rode in on isn’t here anymore,” said Dennis Pittman, the executive director of the Oakland County Republican Party, speaking about Mr. Obama. “He’s in trouble here.”

A majority of voters across Michigan have a negative assessment of Mr. Obama’s performance. Only 38 percent gave him a positive rating, while 61 percent rated him negatively, according to a statewide poll conducted Oct. 1 through Oct. 4 by Epic-MRA. Still, 46 percent of Michigan voters have a favorable opinion of Mr. Obama, the poll found, compared with 47 percent who have an unfavorable view.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=dec580d20af092e2d0634f144ed12b25

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