Dearborn, Michigan (CNN) – On a stage adorned by some of the American car industry's most historic artifacts, President Barack Obama on Wednesday vigorously defended his 2009 authorization of the massive auto bailout and indirectly jabbed at his all-but-certain GOP rival for opposing the plan.
"Change is the decision we made to rescue the American auto industry from collapse when some politicians said, 'Let Detroit go bankrupt,'" Obama told an enthusiastic crowd of 600 supporters at the Henry Ford Museum just west of Detroit – a city with an identity and economy that has long been intertwined with the auto industry's biggest names.
The remark was a clear reference to Mitt Romney, who announced his first bid for president on the same stage in 2008. The former Massachusetts governor, who was born in Michigan and whose father was a former auto executive and governor of the state, opposed the bailout, saying a structured bankruptcy could have achieved the same result without the massive cost to the U.S. government. Moreover, he has argued the Obama administration made too many concessions to auto unions as part of the bailout.
It was no coincidence the president devoted the most significant portion of his 20-minute speech to the subject, a decision that remains a popular one with Democrats and Republicans alike here. His re-election effort, which a Michigan Obama official said just opened its 10th office in the state, is banking on that decision to keep the traditional swing state safely in the president's column in the fall.
Still, a recent analysis by the Detroit Free Press showed Romney edging the president in fundraising from Michigan donors thus far, one signal that the Romney campaign is well-organized to contend there. But the Romney campaign did not keep any staff in the state after its win in the Republican primary two months ago. Nevertheless, a Romney spokesperson vowed the campaign will open an office soon and is "ready to hit the ground running."
The president couldn't have picked a more fitting venue in which to make his argument, just feet away from some of the most historic automobiles in American history, including the limousine President Kennedy was assassinated in and the once-segregated bus Rosa Parks made famous. Also featured nearby was an exhibit entitled "Made in America" featuring some of the country's most famous automotive entrepreneurs.
"You look at the amazing cars in this museum and you are reminded that part of what makes this country strong is making stuff," Obama said, referencing the exhibits. "I want to invent and sell American products all across the world."
According to a campaign official, most supporters paid $250 to attend the event, while some paid significantly more for a private reception with the president. A more intimate reception will follow at a private residence in Bingham Farms, Michigan, where 47 people – each of whom paid $10,000 – are expected to attend, according to the campaign official. All told, the president is likely to rake in close to $1 million for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Obama, who named Romney directly in a speech late last month, refrained from mentioning his rival this time. But the references appeared clear to the crowd, some of whom could be heard mumbling the Republican's name themselves as Obama spoke.
Wednesday's fundraisers come on the heels of the Obama campaign's announcement that it raised $53 million last month, $8 million more than it took in February.