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In and outs of the political campaigns, focusing on Michigan and Lansing, Tim Skubick will report regularly throughout the primary and then general election campaigns.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Using the Auto Issue

      The state GOP chairman says the meltdown in the U.S. auto industry is "irrelevant" as a campaign issue.  Saul Anuzis has it wrong. This mess is a textbook opportunity for somebody to exploit to win votes.  And that somebody is not John McCain.
      It did not start out that way as Barack Obama, on his first foray into Detroit, blasted the auto industry for not moving fast enough to clean up their polluting fleet.  Since then he's done a nice pivot to sound more helpful if not sympathetic to the unfolding merger melodrama.
      McCain has been a Johnny come lately.  Yes he has supported a $25 billion industry loan but he has not embraced more aid to facilitate a merger. He's in a wait and see mode.
      It's not the first time he's been there. When GM announced for the first time that it was in deep trouble. The Obama team notified a Detroit TV station that it would arrange an interview in D.C. if the station could get a camera to the candidate.  The station did and ran an Obama comment.
      The station notified the McCain camp that it wanted a statement too. Nobody at the local level could make that decision without an O.K. from the top of the campaign.  It looked like McCain would not appear on camera until the station revealed that Obama would.  Then and only then, did the McCain folks move into high gear.
       The auto industry chaos presents that perfect Bill Clinton moment where the two candidates can say they feel Detroit and Michigan's pain and then prescribe an elixir.
       This past week at the apex of the GM-Chrysler merger stuff, both candidates weighted in.  Their remarks were similar but you judge which statement resonated louder with voters in Michigan where the merger could cost thousands of jobs.
       McCain told ABC's "Good Morning America," he "would do whatever I think needed to be done to help out the auto industry." Good line.
       Obama noted that he "immediately" would meet with the leaders to chart a course.  A better line.
       From a purely political standpoint, the car story has been ripe for picking but it appears only one candidate has consistently plucked it for his own benefit.


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