By Keith Laing - 02/24/12 06:39 PM EST
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Friday that he and his wife own several American cars, as he pushed back on Democratic claims that he does not support the U.S. auto industry.
But his claim might hurt him by reinforcing the image, being pushed by Democrats, of Romney as elitist and out of touch with average Americans.
Democrats have hammered Romney ahead of Tuesday’s GOP primary in Michigan, reminding voters of his opposition to the federal government bailout of Detroit-based General Motors and Chrysler in late 2008.
“I like the fact that most of the cars I see [in Michigan] are Detroit-made automobiles,” Romney said near the end of his speech.
“I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually. I used to have a Dodge truck, so I used to have all three [major American car manufacturers] covered.”
The remark might draw comparisons to 2008 Republican nominee John McCain’s comment about owning multiple homes, which Democrats used in that campaign to paint the Arizona senator as out of touch.
Romney has been on the defensive about the auto bailouts since the Republican presidential campaign moved to Michigan because he wrote a widely read op-ed in The New York Times in 2008 titled “Let
Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
In the article, Romney called for the automakers to go through a managed bankruptcy. On Friday, he said that it was important to learn what he said were the lessons of the near-collapse of the auto industry.
“In my view, the industry got in trouble because [United Auto Workers] asked for too much, management gave too much and made other mistakes and the government CAFE standards hurt domestic automakers and provided a benefit to some of the foreign automakers,” he said.
“By the way, the result of those missteps was a cost-penalty per vehicle of about $2,000. I’ll tell you, even the best designers and engineers could not overcome that kind of cost disadvantage without the customer being able to tell.”
Romney also noted that, despite the record profits recently posted by General Motors, which announced it made $7.6 billion in 2011, the federal government still owns a large percentage of the company’s shares.
“We should get government out of General Motors so that its future is determined by the demands of the marketplace, not by the preferences of bureaucrats in Washington,” Romney said.
Democrats have long suggested that they see Romney’s position on the auto bailouts as a political winner for President Obama in Midwestern states such as Michigan, and the party continued to hammer the former Massachusetts governor Friday.
As Romney spoke, members of the UAW placed letters on cars parked outside Ford Field that spelled out the phrase “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”