Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) - Returning to a state that has become unexpectedly competitive for him, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sought to straddle a fraught political line at a Michigan rally that seemed more like a homecoming on Wednesday.
At a campaign rally of several hundred in Grand Rapids, Romney defended his 2008 opposition to the federal bailout of American automakers and took on other sacred cows of the trade unions powerful in local politics.
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The auto bailout, put in motion by former President George W. Bush and continued by President Barack Obama, is now widely viewed as a success. Michigan Democrats have seized on the issue as a potential vulnerability for Romney in a state hard hit by the economic downturn.
On Wednesday Romney - who was born in Detroit and whose father was later the Michigan governor - said the president had eventually come around to his suggestion that a managed bankruptcy was the best solution for Detroit's auto manufacturers.
"The president finally came around to my own view that Detroit needed to go through managed bankruptcy, the auto companies needed to go through managed bankruptcy to shed their excess costs," Romney said during a business roundtable before his rally. "And it took him six months to get there but he got to the same place that I had suggested."
But the former Massachusetts governor accused Obama of "crony capitalism" and said the president had bowed to the United Auto Workers in the deal. Romney has said he would not have poured federal money into a bailout.
"He got hundreds of millions of dollars from labor bosses for his campaign, and so he's paying them back in every way he knows how," Romney said. "One way, of course, was giving General Motors and Chrysler to the UAW."
He also responded to criticism from UAW President Bob King, who has said Romney "turned his back" on the auto industry.
"I'm sorry Mr. King, I care very deeply about the auto industry. I want to make sure we have good jobs not just for a few weeks, but for many, many years," Romney said. "I've taken on union bosses before, and I'm happy to take them on again, because I happen to believe that you can protect the interests of American taxpayers, and you can protect a great industry like automobiles without having to give in to the UAW. And I sure won't."
Romney's remarks were met with enthusiasm by the audience - some of whom Romney said he knew from high school.
"This really does bring back memories," Romney told the audience, adding jokingly of his wife, Ann: "Any old girlfriends here? Oh. Have to be careful! Ann's not here today. Don't tell."
The former Massachusetts governor told stories about campaigning with his father during George Romney's successful gubernatorial bid, as the 2012 White House hopeful looked to remind Michigan residents about his ties to the state.
In recent weeks former Sen. Rick Santorum has surged in popularity in Michigan, which votes February 28. A loss would be a heavy blow to Romney, who carried the state in the 2008 presidential primary.
However, he received good news on Wednesday, when a GOP source confirmed Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder would endorse Romney at a Thursday event in Farmington Hills.