Romney, McCain vow to lift auto industry

January 14, 2008 7:02:58 PM PST
Republican rivals Mitt Romney and John McCain both promised to revive recession-ravaged Michigan and the auto industry Monday as they campaigned in a presidential primary neither can afford to lose. "I will not rest until Michigan is back," said Romney, a native son who jabbed at his rival for saying many jobs among the thousands lost will never return.

We will create new jobs," insisted McCain, who also favors improvements in federal programs for laid-off workers. "We have the innovation, the talent, the knowledge and the ability ... to regain Michigan's position as the best in the world."

In contrast to a hard-fought Republican primary, the Democratic race in Michigan existed in name only. But that hardly interfered with the growing testiness in the nationwide battle between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

After days of controversy over race ? and a fresh attack on his abortion record ? Obama said it seemed some of his opponents "don't seem to have anything positive to say about their own record. All they're trying to do is run me down."

Obama, seeking to become the first black president, didn't mention Clinton by name. But the reference was unmistakable after days of race-related controversy, and one day after a Clinton campaign surrogate made what many viewed as a veiled reference to Obama's self-disclosed teenage drug use ? despite the surrogate's denial of that intent.

Clinton did not mention the campaign's increasingly combative tone as she campaigned in New York.

"Both Senator Obama and I know we are where we are today because of leaders like Dr. King," Clinton said at a labor-sponsored birthday celebration in honor of the slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King. "We have to bring our party together and our country together."

In the Michigan Republican primary, polls showed McCain and Romney in a close race, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee running third.

Of the three, Romney is most in need of a victory as he looks to restore at least some of the luster lost with defeats in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Several associates have suggested the former Massachusetts governor may quit the race unless he prevails.

McCain won the state's primary eight years ago on the strength of independent voters, and hopes for a reprise on Tuesday. He has regained the lead in the national polls that he enjoyed months ago ? before his campaign nearly came apart over the summer.

Huckabee has less at stake in Michigan than either of his two rivals, and hopes to attract votes from those hard-hit by the state's economic troubles, as well as from evangelical Christians, who powered him to victory in the Iowa caucuses.

He, too, campaigned on economic issues during the day.

"Some of the toughest competition your company faces is from its own government, whose tax policies, whose regulatory policies, the threat of litigation, makes it real tough to stay in business," he told employees at a Demmer Corp. plant near Lansing that makes armored personnel carriers for the military.

Romney went before the Detroit Economic Club for a speech meant to appeal to laid-off workers as well as voters who recall his father's tenure as governor a generation ago.

"I've got Michigan in my DNA. I've got it in my heart, and I've got cars in my bloodstream," he said. A former Massachusetts governor, Romney promised to convene a White House summit within 100 days of taking office to produce a solution to the auto industry's long-term slide.

In remarks that could apply to President Bush and the Republicans who controlled Congress for a decade, he said, "Washington politicians look at Michigan and see a rust belt. But the real rust is in Washington."

But he said the pessimists who say there is no future for the industry are wrong.

"The auto industry and all its jobs do not have to be lost. And I am one man who will work to transform the industry and save those jobs."

McCain spoke constantly of the productivity of Michigan workers. "As president of the United States, I will herald a new day for Michigan," he said.

Among other Republicans, former Sen. Fred Thompson is making a last stand in South Carolina, which has a primary next Saturday. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani campaigned in Florida, where he hopes to resurrect his flagging campaign in the Jan. 29 primary.

There was no Democratic campaign in Michigan, where the state party held the primary earlier than national rules allowed and so the national party stripped the state of its delegates.

Next up for the Democrats were precinct caucuses Saturday night in Nevada. There, Clinton's supporters awaited a court ruling on a lawsuit seeking a last-minute change in rules they agreed to months ago. Their objective was to prevent several caucuses along the Las Vegas strip, where thousands of Culinary Workers Union employees ? many of them Hispanic or black ? hold jobs.

The rules were approved in March, when the former first lady was the overwhelming national front-runner in the race. But the union voted to endorse Obama last week, and the lawsuit followed.

The South Carolina Democratic primary is scheduled for Saturday, as well, and Obama is favored in a state where roughly half the primary voters are black.

Obama won the Iowa caucuses in the campaign's first test, and Clinton countered last week with a New Hampshire primary upset. The third remaining candidate, former Sen. John Edwards, is campaigning in both Nevada and South Carolina, and his aides circulated a memo during the day saying both his rivals were "deeply flawed."

Obama's comments about the attacks on him came in Nevada several days after race became a subject of controversy in his contest with Clinton, who is trying to become the first woman to win the Oval office.

The issue flared after Clinton said it had taken President Lyndon Johnson, a white politician, to finally realize King's dream of racial equality by signing the Civil Rights Act. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and the highest-ranking black in Congress, expressed unhappiness over that as well as remarks her husband, former President Bill Clinton, had made that were critical of Obama.

The former president made several appearances on black radio programs to ease concerns, while his wife appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" this weekend and accused Obama's campaign of distorting her comments.