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