GOP told to ig­nore Big Three au­tomak­ers in Detroit at its peril

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Charles Hurt

DETROIT — Repub­li­cans here say that their na­tional party’s dis­mis­sive at­ti­tude to­ward the Big Three au­tomak­ers could doom the party’s hopes of cap­tur­ing the gov­er­nor’s man­sion and Se­nate seat in a large blue state this Novem­ber.

Repub­li­cansinCon­gresshave be­lit­tled Detroit’s woes in re­cent weeks,andPres­i­den­tBush­has­been less thansym­pa­thetic to their plight, say­ing that they should fo­cus on build­ing more “rel­e­vant” ve­hi­cles.

But no slight has been more in­sult­ing here than the much-de­layed meet­ing be­tween Mr. Bush and the heads of Detroit’s au­tomak­ers to dis­cuss U.S. trade poli­cies and do­mes­tic is­sues such as health care costs, ex­pen­sivepen­sion­sand other obli­ga­tions to the fed­er­ally pro­tected au­toworker unions.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion is wrong on this is­sue,” said Repub­li­can Dick DeVos, a long­time Bush sup­porter who has a good shot at un­seat­ing Gov. Jen­nifer M. Gran­holm, who was a su­per­star among Democrats just two years ago. Since the sum­mer, polls haveshown­thet­woswap­ping leads by a hand­ful of points.

“The pres­i­dent needs to meet with the BigThree,and it musthap­pen soon,” Mr. DeVos told re­porters this week. “29,000 peo­ple in Michi­gan lost jobs last month.”

The state’s un­em­ploy­ment rate is at 7 per­cent, which has given Repub­li­cans un­usual open­ings in a state dom­i­nated by Democrats. It’s been 18 years since a Repub­li­can won Michi­gan in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“I think that th­ese are both very, very good op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ken Mehlman said Aug. 24 while tour­ing the state. “There is no gov­er­nor that is in more trou­ble than Jen­nifer Gran­holm. The state has bled jobs un­der her watch, and peo­ple want change.”

An­other seat that Repub­li­cans think th­ey­can­cap­ture is that of Sen. Deb­bieStabenow,the first-ter­mDemocratwhopicked off aRepub­li­can in­cum­bent six years ago. She faces a chal­lenge from pop­u­lar Oak­land County Sher­iff Michael Bouchard.

Like Mr. DeVos, Mr. Bouchard has­madeMichi­gan’sec­o­nomic­woes a cen­tral cam­paign theme.

“Ev­ery place I go, ev­ery­body I run in­toei­ther is some­body that lost a job or knows some­body that lost a job. That’s a scary sit­u­a­tion,” Mr. Bouchard said dur­ing a cam­paign stop on Aug. 24.

Al­though Mr. Bouchard and Mr. DeVos ap­pear to be reach­ing vot­ers with their eco­nomic mes­sage, Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton are con­fus­ing the is­sue.

Sen.La­marAlexan­der,Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, re­cently of­fered a“new def­i­ni­tion of the Amer­i­can auto in­dus­try,” which in­cludes any for­eign com­pany that hires U.S. work­ers and builds cars in the U.S.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Repub­li­can, said Detroit au­tomak­ers must “change or they won’t be around. [. . .] There is a lot that our au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ers can learn in the world.”

Those re­marks, along with the White House meet­ing that hasn’t hap­pened, has an­gered a lot of peo­ple in Michi­gan.

Detroit News busi­ness writer Daniel Howes this week blasted “Red State Repub­li­cans,” ac­cus­ing the­moftry­ing to “giveDetroita­con­de­scend­ing ge­og­ra­phy les­son — as if the No. 1 player in China, GM, doesn’t knowthe­busi­ness is global.”

A White House spokes­woman saidAug.24 that both sides con­tinue to look for a time for a meet­ing that suits all par­ties.

“It’s no­tablow-off,” Mr.Mehlman said on Aug. 24. “The pres­i­dent cares tremen­dously about the in­dus­try. But again, if you look at the record, this is not an in­dus­try prob­lem. This is a Michi­gan prob­lem.”

Mr. DeVos isn’t buy­ing that line.

“This has just been a con­tin­ued re­fusal,” he said. “I’ve heard the meet­ing’s sched­uled and it’s not sched­uled, it’s on and it’s off. [. . .] The White House needs to step up and get it done.”

Michi­gan Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Saulius Anuzis said Aug. 24 that it’s a “huge is­sue.”

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