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With Romney Out of the Picture, McCain Must Hone Michigan Message

DETROIT, MI??ow that John McCain has passed up former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney and a favorite son of Michigan where he was born and his father was a popular Governor, as his running mate, the GOP contender will have to refine his strategy for winning over Michigan.

One of the biggest issues in front of both McCain and Barack Obama for winning swing-state Michigan is how much each one is willing to commit to propping up General Motors, Ford and Chrysler as the Big Three try to transition to building more fuel efficient cars after years of relying on trucks and SUVs for profits.

The Federal government and Congress have before them a plan to hike loan guarantees for the companies from the $25 billion outlined earlier this year in the energy bill to $50 billion.

Obama spokesman Neil Shapiro says the Illinois Senator is in favor of the measure. ??enator Obama and Senator Biden support the auto industry plan for a federal investment of $7.5 billion over three years ?an investment that will leverage $50 billion in low-interest credit for the industry to help them retool plants and create jobs.”

The McCain campaign has been less enthusiastic, and Congressional Republicans have been cooler to boosting the package than Democrats. Asked if he backed such proposals, McCain suggested on August 13 that such support might create a sense of doom around the companies. ‘I have heard many of these proposals, but I have also had meetings with the Big 3 automakers, and they are confident that with the new hybrids and flex-fuels and other technology advances ... they can succeed. So in all due respect, I worry a little bit about us predicting failure on the part of the automakers when they're struggling mightily.’”

McCain's position hasn't evolved beyond that statement. The Big Three are actively lobbying both campaigns, Congress and the Bush Administration for the $50 billion loan program.

From GM product chief Bob Lutz: "I do think the American automobile business is deserving of government loan guarantees because the financial institutions in the U.S. are so stressed out right now," he said. Lutz said that stress led to a lack of support in giving the Detroit 3 "a competitiveness that we may well need," Lutz told reporters on the sidelines of a press event here.

Lutz also said Americans should not think of the loan guarantees as a bailout because the government would only act as a co-signer on the loans. "We are not accepting government money," said Lutz.

The U.S. auto industry, Lutz said, has been caught in a perfect storm. He said the last time the government backed a loan for an automaker -- for Chrysler Corp. in 1979 -- it made millions because Chrysler paid the loan off early.

NBC's political director Chuck Todd says that Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio remain "the big swing states where both candidates have a lot to win or lose."

Polling in Michigan between the two candidates has tightened in the last few weeks. Democratic vp candidate Joe Biden is very popular with union members, and figures to spend a lot of time in Michigan townhall meetings in the next 60 days. McCain has been popular in Michigan, winning the 2000 Republican primary.

But union members and even white-collar Reagan Democrats will be looking for commitments to help the Big Three.

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