Democrats bail on 'bailout' label for autos

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Instead, Obama and other Democrats talk about an "auto rescue," a nod, perhaps, to the withering unpopularity of bailouts that were given to banks in the first months of the 2008 economic panic, before the automakers asked for help of their own.

In a speech on Obama's behalf in Parma, Ohio, this week, former President Bill Clinton talked at length about the auto bailout, but he explicitly said it was "unfair" to call it that.

"We are growing manufacturing jobs … and there is no more clear example of this than what happened in the automobile restructure," Clinton said. "And I don't like it when it's called a bailout because it's not fair. No banks would finance this, so the government came in and helped with loans and an investment in stock of General Motors and Chrysler."

Romney's campaign has had no problem referring to the auto intervention as a bailout, however. In a statement this week after a report from the liberal magazine The Nation claimed that the former Massachusetts governor profited from the auto intervention, a spokeswoman said that intervention was both a bailout and "misguided."

"The report states that Delphi had 29 U.S. plants before the misguided Obama auto bailout, and just four after. Is this really what the president views as success?" Romney spokeswoman Michele Davis said after the magazine's report was published.

"Mitt Romney would have taken a different path to turning around the auto industry," Davis continued. "As president, Mitt Romney will create jobs and give American workers the recovery they deserve."

Democrats think they have a political winner with the auto bailout, regardless of what it is called.

"It's important to remember that one in eight jobs in Ohio are tied to automobiles, and [Obama] saved those jobs," Clinton said in his Parma speech. "A million of them. And now 250,000 more people are working in the automobile industry than there were the day the automobile plan was signed."

However, Republicans think selling any bailout to a spending-weary electorate is going to be tough, even as polls show Obama maintaining a slight lead in several Midwestern states.

"I don't think bailouts make good success stories," GOP strategist John Feehery said in an email.

"The president needs to expand the narrative beyond industries where the government had to rush in and spend a whole bunch of taxpayer money," Feehery (who also contributes to The Hill) continued. "Otherwise, he is still on the hook for a failing economy."