Obama travels to Michigan to sell auto bailout as winner on jobs

President Obama will travel to a General Motors plant in Michigan Friday to tout the auto bailout, one of the few bright spots for the White House in a torrent of consistently bad economic news.

The president's trip to Orion Township, Mich., on Friday with South Korean President Lee highlights a key element of Obama’s reelection strategy as he tries to make the case that his unpopular decision to bail out GM and Chrysler has paid off.

Obama and Lee are visiting a plant that produces the Chevy Sonic. It was set to close before Obama agreed to restructure GM with government loans, and the White House argues this saved 1,750 jobs.

Such arguments are critical for the president as he asks voters for a second term while the nation continues to battle high unemployment and falling incomes.

Friday’s trip also gives Obama a chance to boast about the positive effects of the recently passed U.S.-Korean free-trade agreement and how the administration believes that it will create thousands of jobs in the coming years.

At first glance, the thought of an American president hosting a tour of a GOP plant for the South Korean president might seem incongruous.

South Korea is the home of several major auto producers that are fierce competitors in the U.S. market, and U.S. autoworkers and the big three initially resisted the trade deal.

Auto and truck tariffs were one of the last issues to be resolved before Obama agreed to back the deal last year. But in the end, Ford, GM and Chrysler all supported the deal, as did the United Autoworkers union.

The White House argues the trade deal could lead to exports of U.S. cars to Seoul by reducing Korean tariffs on U.S. cars.

“The Sonic enterprise shows not just how the president’s decision to save the American auto industry is keeping plants open across the Midwest, it also illustrates how U.S.-Korea economic ties work for American workers,” the White House said Friday in advancing the president’s trip.

Obama got another boost Friday morning from a Commerce Department report showing strong retail sales, including for cars, for the month of September. Autos and auto parts sales jumped 3.6 percent.

While the bailouts that followed the financial collapse in 2008 remain the subject of conservative ire, the White House sees the auto bailout as popular in Michigan, a key battleground state the president cannot afford to lose.

Given the presence of auto manufacturers in other battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Indiana, the White House hopes positive feelings in Michigan about what the administration did for the U.S. auto companies will bleed out to other states.

In 2008, Obama cruised to victory in Michigan with about 57 percent of the vote, but the White House clearly isn’t taking the state for granted. Mitt Romney, a front-runner in the GOP presidential race, has deep family roots in the state. His is the son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney.

Obama has been traveling to Michigan with great frequency. This will be the president's ninth trip to the state this year, according to CBS, and Vice President Biden was in the state earlier this week.

Lending credence to the notion that Obama is preparing to battle Romney in Michigan, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has repeatedly pointed out that the former governor of Massachusetts was opposed to the bailouts. This week, the DNC put out a statement and video about Romney's record on the bailouts.

Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the DNC, said in an email that Romney has repeatedly flipped on the issue, and had Romney been president, the Big Three would now be bankrupt.

“Mitt's latest position is that the auto industry shouldn't have been pulled back from the brink of disaster,” Woodhouse said. “But as Michiganders know, the president's decision to provide loans to automakers was the right one. The recovery package worked, two great American companies are back on their feet, and more than 1.4 million Americans still have jobs.”

Officials have indicated they hope the good news from Michigan will be felt in other states, like Indiana.

“The Sonic enterprise shows not just how the president’s decision to save the American auto industry is keeping plants open across the Midwest, it also illustrates how U.S.-Korea economic ties work for American workers,” a White House official said. “That’s what the Korea trade agreement does on a larger scale.”