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Romney Fights Off Auto-Bankruptcy Issue, Likely to Face it Again in Critical Ohio

If it was known Mitt Romney was going to win swing-state Michigan’s primary by the slimmest of margins over the least moderate candidate in the Republican field months ago, that would have been seen as a loss, especially given that it is his home state. However, after overcoming a poll deficit fueled by perceptions of Romney being anti-auto industry, his supporters celebrated Tuesday’s Michigan win with vigor. But that “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” op-ed headline/sound byte likely will haunt him in the even more important Ohio primary.

Romney faced off against a considerable image problem largely based on the “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” headline he penned as part of a now-infamous New York Times op-ed piece, as well as a surging connection with voters to the far right by opponent Rick Santorum. In the fall of 2008, Romney bashed President Barack Obama for the proposed bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors, noting a burden on taxpayers as a key critique, and continues to do so despite what most analysts paint as a successful effort.

Those issues will continue to play in the crucial Ohio primary on March 6 (“Super Tuesday”) because of the state’s similar reliance on the automotive industry. Though Romney’s point was about ways to better manage the bankruptcies to improve business prospects for the long-term health of the companies with no suggestions of a liquidation that would have caused millions to lose their jobs, the headline/sound byte undoubtedly will be used and likely create an image issue he needs to conquer. And, should Romney take the GOP nod, the auto bankruptcy bailout will certainly become a battle issue in both Ohio and Michigan in the context of a general election – After all, it was the first issue Romney publicly used to engage President Barack Obama after announcing his official candidacy. And, considering the two states comprise the largest number of swing-state electorates other than Florida or Pennsylvania, the issue of the Chrysler and General Motors bankruptcy could very well be among the most important swing issues of the entire GOP vs. Obama race.

Brian Shappell, NACM staff writer