Attack against Romney on auto bailout moves beyond Michigan

In Michigan, car companies that may have gone out of business without a government bailout have added 15,000 manufacturing jobs since 2009. Anthony Mason reports on how the bailout issue will impact the GOP presidential race in Michigan.

Updated at 2:42 p.m. ET

Democrats continue to hammer Mitt Romney for once penning an op-ed entitled, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," but now the attacks are moving beyond Michigan to Ohio, another state with a large number of voters with jobs tied to the auto industry or the unions.

Public sector union AFSCME (American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees) is running an ad in Ohio slamming the Republican for his opposition to the auto bailout. "Romney would have turned his back on us in the depths of the recession," a narrator says in the ad, "but he supported giving the banks billions in bailouts? That's Mitt's world."

Republicans vote in Ohio on "Super Tuesday" on March 6, and a new poll there shows Rick Santorum with a seven-point lead over Romney.

President Obama's re-election team is already running an ad in Michigan that references Romney's op-ed while touting the president's support for the bailout. And the Democratic National Committee published a web ad today on the same theme.

The DNC ad plays a snippet from an interview with Romney on CBS last year, when in reference to his 2008 op-ed, he said, "That's exactly what I said. The headline you read which said, 'Let Detroit Go Bankrupt' points out that those companies needed to go through bankruptcy."

In that same interview, however, Romney explained that letting a company go bankrupt wouldn't mean liquidating the company, "but allowing them to go to the bankruptcy court to reorganize and come out stronger. That's what happened."

He added, "And the federal government put in, I think, $17 billion into those companies before they finally recognized, 'Yeah, they need to go bankrupt, go through that process, so that they're able to get rid of excess costs.'"

Romney did not mention that there was no private capital available at the time that allowed the managed bankruptcy to take place and the government's intervention was a pre-requisite to the managed bankruptcy.

General Motors and Chrysler were restructured as part of the $85 billion auto bailout, which started under President George W. Bush's leadership and was extended after Mr. Obama took office. Some analysts have claimed more than 1 million jobs were saved by the bailout.

Polls show voters in Michigan approve of the bailout. In a recent NBC/ Marist poll from Michigan, 63 percent of registered voters said the bailout was a good idea.

Nationally, 56 percent of Americans said the federal loans given to GM and Chrysler were good for the economy, according to a Pew survey from this month -- that's up from 37 percent in October 2009.

The Romney campaign said it isn't surprising to see labor unions attacking the former Massachusetts governor.

"Union bosses have repeatedly attacked Mitt Romney in this campaign because they know he will end the sweetheart deals they have enjoyed under President Obama," Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul said. "Mitt Romney has fought labor bosses before and he will fight them again."

While Romney's op-ed may make him a prime target for Democrats, the bailout is a sticky subject for the other GOP candidates as well.

Santorum has tried to cast himself as an economic populist who can appeal to working class, social conservatives -- a segment of voters once referred to as "Reagan Democrats" who could help the GOP nominee in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania or Indiana. However, he also opposed the auto bailout. Santorum has tried to claim that he's at least more consistent on bailouts than Romney, since he also opposed the Wall Street bailout (unlike Romney).

"Mitt Romney supported his friends on Wall Street and then turned his back on the people of Detroit," Santorum said Sunday on the ABC's "This Week." "Now, I say turned his back because he supports the concept of bailouts. I don't. And that's the difference between the two approaches."

Rep. Ron Paul, a staunch libertarian, unsurprisingly opposed the auto bailouts. However, in a speech in Detroit on Monday, Paul said that U.S. capital "might have been spent building cars in this country rather than bombs overseas."

With reporting from CBS News/ National Journal reporter Lindsey Boerma

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