Poll: Auto bailouts buoying Obama against GOP candidates in Michigan

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The financial health of the American auto companies has emerged as a central campaign issue as the Republican primary has moved to Michigan, where voters will head to the polls, as they will in Arizona, on Feb. 28.

While, the auto bailouts originated under former President George W. Bush, Obama received strong criticism for his handling of the issue from many Republicans.

Obama's campaign has since touted the turnaround of GM and Chrysler, arguing that the bailout is paying off as the companies begin to hire new workers.

Democrats have made clear they see Republican opposition to the auto bailouts as a political winner for Obama, and have hammered Romney for his stance on the issue.

In the fall of 2008, before then-Illinois Sen. Obama won that year's presidential election, Romney penned a widely read op-ed in The New York Times about the bailouts, titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

The Obama campaign reminded voters of the article last week when General Motors announced record profits for 2011, though critics note that the government still owns a large percentage of GM's shares on the stock market and has not recovered all of the nearly $50 billion it initially pumped into GM.

Romney has defended his position on the auto bailouts, writing in an op-ed in The Detroit News last week that Obama should have allowed the two companies to go through a managed bankruptcy.

“The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse,” Romney wrote. “I believe that without his intervention things there would be better."

A separate poll released this week showed Romney was not being hurt by his opposition to the auto bailouts among GOP primary voters in Michigan.

The survey, from Public Policy Polling (PPP), shows that 34 percent of likely Republican voters said they were more likely to support a candidate who opposed the auto bailouts, while 27 percent said they were less likely to. The poll found 35 percent of respondents said the bailouts did not make a difference to them.

The NBC poll shows Romney leading Santorum among likely Michigan voters 37 percent to 35, while the PPP poll showed Santorum leading Romney 37-33. Both margins are within the respective polls' margins of error.

Some Republican strategists argue that the tough economic climate in Michigan could allow the eventual GOP nominee to have a chance to win there, pointing to Republican Gov. Rick Synder's victory in 2012.

The NBC News/Marist survey of Michigan voters was conducted from Feb. 19 to 20. The margin of error is two percentage points for all registered voters and 4 percent for likely GOP primary voters.

This story was updated at 2:35 p.m.