Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama chose the day of the Michigan Republican primary for what might be his highest octane attack on the Republican candidates to date.
He hit them where the Obama team believes the GOP has the upper hand: the auto bailout.
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Speaking to a fired up audience at a United Auto Workers conference in Washington, the president took a swipe at Mitt Romney without naming him telling the crowd, "some even said we should 'let Detroit go bankrupt.'"
Later he went after Republican opposition to the bailout by nearly cussing:
"They're saying that the problem is that you, the workers, made out like bandits in all of this; that saving the American auto industry was just about paying back unions. Really? Even by the standards of this town, that's a load of you-know-what!"
The crowd laughed, but the remarks are unusually pointed from a president who has mostly left direct attacks against Republican candidates to surrogates.
The president's bailout barrage appears mostly aimed at Governor Romney since he's the most outspoken critic of the government's auto-industry bailout; it's been years-in-the making and includes a 2008 New York Times op-ed entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Santorum has also said he opposes the bailout.
A recent NBC/Marist poll shows Republican opposition to the government's rescue of the auto industry may help them in the Michigan primary but hurt in the general election. The poll shows 63% of all registered voters in Michigan support the auto bailout and, according to NBC's First Read, that includes 61% of independents. This is no doubt welcome news for the president's campaign looking ahead to the general election.
But 50% of GOP voters likely to turn out in the Michigan primary think the bailout was a bad idea. Only 42% of those likely to vote think the auto bailout was a good idea, so bailout politics could be a wash for Republicans in Michigan Tuesday.
Don't expect the president to stay quiet on the point. Democrats feel their prospects in Michigan are looking up. That's because the auto industry is on an upswing, according to the president the auto industry has added 200,000 new jobs and has a plan to add more, and unemployment in the state has fallen dramatically. While it's still a very high 9.3%, that's well below the 14.1% it hit in 2009.
The Obama campaign likes to say they see many paths to the 270 electoral votes needed to win re-election, but Democratic operatives close to the campaign believe Michigan is among the states the president must win if he's on a path to victory. Its 16 electoral votes are valuable and after all he's done for the state, if the president loses Michigan it won't bode well for his odds in the rest of the nation. So expect more talk of the successes of the auto bailout.