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Romney Overcomes Auto-Bankruptcy Op-Ed In Ohio, But Just Barely

Super Tuesday has come and gone, and the GOP’s 2012 presidential nomination process is officially…still a mess.

De facto frontrunner Mitt Romney picked up a number of delegates in Tuesday’s primary contests, increasing his already substantial lead over fellow candidates Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. But the nature of Romney’s wins, and the respectable performances of his less establishment-friendly opponents, has left the primary picture as unclear as ever. All in all, Romney won contests in Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont and Virginia, while Santorum drew on his considerable stock with Christian evangelicals to win North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Gingrich won his home state of Georgia by a more than 20% margin, but didn’t finish higher than third anywhere else.

Romney’s win in Ohio, an important battleground state in the general election, was anything but decisive, and reflected the candidate’s ongoing image problem among American autoworkers. After overcoming his auto bailout criticism to ultimately win the Michigan primary last month, Romney again had to answer for his opposition in Ohio, a state where one in every eight jobs ties back to the auto industry.

In fall 2008, Romney authored a now-infamous op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” in which he sharply criticized President Barack Obama for using federal tax dollars to reorganize Chrysler and General Motors. The headline was misleading: Romney didn’t really propose letting the two auto titans go bankrupt completely, but instead suggested that the reorganization hinge on private financing rather than taxpayer money.

However, the Obama Administration has argued that private financing was nearly non-existent when the auto bailout was proposed and implemented, due to the then-ongoing credit crisis. And regardless of where the money came from, the auto bailout was largely successful. The entire effort breathed life into a once-moribund domestic auto industry, and became popular with investors and workers alike, especially those in states like Michigan and Ohio.

Romney’s opposition to the bailout ultimately cost him in Ohio, where he won on Tuesday by a mere percentage point, nearly losing to Santorum. Moreover, even if he does win the nomination, Romney’s middling performance practically guarantees that his “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” sound bite will come back to haunt him in the auto-industry states in the general election.

Jacob Barron, CICP, NACM staff writer