The Feb. 28 Michigan primary should have been a quick spin around the block for favorite son Mitt Romney. He was born in Detroit to an auto industry executive who eventually would turn around the struggling American Motors Corp. and become governor of Michigan. Instead, the former GOP frontrunner is in the race of his political life, trailing former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum by as much as 10 points in two polls released on Wednesday.
But the former Massachusetts governor’s toughest primary opponent in Michigan may not be the surging Santorum, but resurgent Detroit automakers. Romney, who famously urged lawmakers to “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” in a 2008 New York Times op-ed piece , can chalk up his flagging fortunes in part to the rising tide at General Motors (NYSE: GM), Ford (NYSE: F) and Fiat SpA’s Chrysler. And with that tide starting to lift the ships of Michigan’s small businesses and “working families,” Romney’s vigorous defense of his position sounds oddly out of touch to voters.
“All politics is local,” the late House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill once said. That, better than anything, explains why GOP voters who, in principle, oppose massive government bailouts of private industry are poised to punish Romney for arguing that automakers should have been allowed to sink four years ago. Read