Auto bailout a major issue in Michigan primary

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at a campaign rally February 17, 2012 in Shelby Township, Mich. The state's election will be tinged with the shadows of the auto industry bailout.

Adriene Hill: General Motors' turnaround has been pretty dramatic. It's only been a couple years since the government bailed the company out. That bailout has turned into a major issue in the upcoming Republican primary in Michigan.

For more, I've got my colleague Jeremy Hobson with us now from Ann Arbor. Good morning Jeremy.

Jeremy Hobson: Good morning Adriene.

Hill: So the auto bailout has emerged as a key issue in the Republican primary and the presidential election. How do the people of Michigan feel about it?

Hobson: Well, we've been all over the state asking them -- in Grand Rapids, in Lansing, right here in Ann Arbor where we're broadcasting from -- and you get a mix of opinions. You get some people who are strongly in favor, some people who are against.

But the interesting thing, Adriene, is that even the skeptics of the benefits of this bailout agree that there were some benefits. The unemployment rate here has dropped from around 14 percent at the peak a couple years ago down to about 9 percent now, and the people here see that.

Here's Doug Sullivan in Grand Rapids:

Doug Sullivan: If they totally pay back what they borrowed, I guess it was a good thing to do. I think they might have been successful either way, I just hope that they pay back everything that they did borrow and were loaned by the government.

So in other words, Adriene, people don't always like the taste of the medicine here, but a lot of them do agree that the medicine worked.

Hill: So Jeremy, you talked to the governor of Michigan. What did he say about the auto bailout, and about the state of the economy?

Hobson: That's right. This is Gov. Rick Snyder, he's a Republican who came into office last year. He's a big booster for the economy. But when you ask him about the bailout, he doesn't quite tell you whether he thinks it should have happened, or not. In fact, so much so that I had to ask him a second time: do you think that the auto industry should have been bailed out? And here's what he said:

Rick Snyder: It wasn't your normal bankruptcy situation. If both of those companies would have gone under, technically it might have taken down the whole supply chain, including Ford. Could there have been other options? Yeah, but I'm not going to second-guess. Let's just move forward and be happy we have good jobs here.

And that sort of wishy-washy answer, Adriene, is not really a surprise. This guy is a Republican who has endorsed Mitt Romney, who's come out against the bailout -- so he has to be very careful about what he says.

Hill: Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson in Michigan. Thanks.

Hobson: Thank you.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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