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Obama takes victory lap with auto industry

President Obama went on a three-pronged attack on Friday, alternately touting passage of the free-trade agreement with South Korea, recounting the success of the auto bailout and taking a veiled swipe at Republican challenger Mitt Romney for his opposition to the bailout.

Speaking at a General Motors plant in Orion Township, Mich., a plant the president said would likely have shut down without government intervention, Obama said his plan to “retool and restructure” the auto companies was “an investment in American workers.”

“One of the first decisions I made as president was to save the U.S. auto industry from collapse,” Obama said to a standing ovation.

The president recounted the administration’s narrative about how the Orion plant, which produces the Chevrolet Sonic, was set to close before government loans helped the company restructure its debt — a move the White House said saved 1,750 jobs.

“Today, I can stand here and say the investment paid off,” Obama said. “The hundreds of thousands of jobs saved made it worth it … taxpayers are being repaid, and plants like this are churning out groundbreaking fuel-efficient cars like the Chevy Sonic.”

Obama reminded the crowd that there were those who didn’t think the government should intervene with a bailout.

“There were a lot of politicians that said it wasn’t worth the time or wasn’t worth the money, and some still say that,” Obama said. “They should come tell that to the workers here, because two years ago it looked like this plant was going to shut its doors … and I refused to let that happen.”

While he didn’t mention Romney by name, the reference was fairly clear: the former governor of Massachusetts reiterated his opposition to the auto company bailouts at Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate.

In 2008, Romney wrote an op-ed for The New York Times called “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

“If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed,” the column read.

In subsequent visits to Michigan, Romney, whose father, George Romney, was once governor of the state, has had to defend this position against criticism from unions, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and small groups of protesters.

Targeting Romney, even in this subtle manner, appears to be another sign that the White House views him as the GOP's likely nominee in 2012.

Flanked by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who wore a Detroit Tigers baseball cap, Obama also praised the U.S.–South Korea free-trade agreement approved by Congress on Wednesday.

“The more goods & services we sell abroad, the more jobs we create here,” Obama said.

He predicted that the agreement would “support at least 70,000 American jobs,” and then closed by rekindling his 2008 campaign slogan.

“For every cynic out there saying it can’t be done, there are a bunch of folks out there saying, 'yes we can.' ”