LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gary Peters sought to put his Republican opponent, Terri Lynn Land, on the defensive Monday by highlighting her 2012 opposition to the federal auto bailout, which is credited with saving the industry and is popular with Michigan voters.
The third-term congressman and other Democrats drew attention to statements Land made at a Republican National Convention event two years ago in which she backed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's anti-bailout position. Asked about Romney and the bailout, she told the Washington Times "I'm with him on that" and noted that Ford survived without the rescue package that went to General Motors and Chrysler.
"Michiganders deserve to know the truth -- that when the rest of the country and plenty of politicians wanted to turn their back on us and let our auto industry and our middle class fail, Ms. Terri Lynn Land sided with them instead of standing up for us," Peters said in a news release. He also played up Land's opposition to the bailout at a campaign event with the United Auto Workers in Sterling Heights on Monday.
After writing a 2008 newspaper column with the fateful "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" headline, Romney, who supported a "managed bankruptcy," struggled to gain a footing in the industrial Midwest where auto manufacturing is crucial. In Michigan, which has more auto industry-related jobs than any other state, Democrats are hoping Land pays a similar price in the tight race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin -- a contest that will factor into which party controls the Senate.
The comments on video by Land, a former Michigan secretary of state, flew under the radar until now.
Land spokeswoman Heather Swift said Monday that she knows how important the auto industry is to Michigan.
"Terri has always believed that something needed to be done to address the auto crisis, but was not convinced on the specific plan that was proposed," Swift said. "Thanks to the resiliency of the American worker and a stronger global economy, our autos are back."
In her 2012 comments, Land said Ford's executive chairman, Bill Ford, "got a loan ... so people know that could have been done," adding that GM was known as "Government Motors." President Barack Obama and others have said Romney's approach would never have worked because no private capital was available to keep GM and Chrysler afloat.
Michigan Democratic Rep. Sander Levin said Land's comment should disqualify her as a candidate and added that Ford got a loan before the financial crisis.
"This was a matter, a moment, of supreme importance for this state," he said. "She said this a few years after the survival of the state in terms of its economy."
Five years have passed since the bailout was authorized under both the Bush and Obama administrations during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. But Levin said voters' memories won't fade about a "basic economic issue" that saved jobs.
Republicans and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity have relentlessly blamed Peters for his support of the federal health care law, which resulted in the cancellation of policies for people whose plans didn't meet the law's standards. Peters decided to more actively confront Land himself and hinted he'll do it again on other issues soon.
According to a survey of 600 likely Michigan voters conducted Feb. 5-11 by EPIC-MRA, 41 percent of respondents supported Land, 38 percent backed Peters and 21 percent were undecided. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and television networks in 2012, about 3 in 5 Michigan voters approved of the Obama administration's aid to the U.S. auto industry, and they overwhelmingly backed the president.
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