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(Updates with debate in seventh paragraph.)
Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- As Mitt Romney barnstorms Michigan explaining his opposition to the federal auto bailout, Governor Rick Snyder -- who endorsed him in the Feb. 28 Republican primary -- isn’t leaving the capital for the campaign trail.
“I’ve got a pretty full schedule already,” Snyder told reporters Feb. 21. “It’s more of a logistics question.”
With Romney and Rick Santorum almost even in recent polls, Snyder has avoided confrontation, political combat and vigorous advocacy for a presidential candidate who opposed the action that helped his state’s unemployment rate fall to 9.3 percent in December from a peak of 14.1 percent in August 2009.
Snyder, 53, said he’d rather the candidates not hammer at the $82 billion federal bailout of companies including General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, an act that Snyder said saved Michigan’s economy from meltdown. Last week, GM said it earned $9.19 billion last year, the largest profit in its 103-year history, and regained its position as the world’s top-selling automaker.
“I’m not going to judge that,” Snyder told reporters last week at a Republican dinner near Detroit where 1,400 came to hear Santorum. “That’s history, and let’s move forward.”
“I don’t spend time on negative issues, I really find common-ground issues and I found a lot of common ground with Governor Romney.”
Not So Helpful
Romney, in a primary campaign debate in Arizona last night, defended his view. He said that while rescuing Wall Street banks was necessary to prevent a collapse of the financial system, the auto bailout “gave the companies” to the United Auto Workers union.
“They were part of the reason the companies were in trouble,” he said.
Snyder spent two days last week campaigning for Romney and doing interviews with national media. He may get more involved as the election approaches, said Sara Wurfel, his spokeswoman.
Staying home may be the wiser choice: Among Republican primary voters, 28 percent said Snyder’s endorsement made them less likely to vote for Romney, according to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted Feb. 17-19. Only 13 percent said Snyder’s choice would sway them and 57 percent said it made no difference.
An NBC/Marist survey of likely voters in Michigan’s Republican primary released yesterday shows Romney and Santorum in a virtual tie: Romney has 37 percent support and Santorum 35 percent, with the margin of error plus-or-minus 3.7 points.
Romney is a Michigan native whose father, George, was the state’s governor and chairman of the now-defunct American Motors Corp.
In a 2008 New York Times opinion piece, Mitt Romney wrote that a bailout would mean “you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.” President Barack Obama’s rescue of GM and Chrysler was “crony capitalism on a grand scale” that enriched unions, he said in a Feb. 14 guest editorial in the Detroit News.
Snyder’s endorsement of Romney wasn’t big news, said Bill Ballenger, publisher of Lansing-based Inside Michigan Politics.
He said Romney’s view of the auto bailout isn’t different from Santorum’s or those of the other Republican candidates.
“There’s no place else to go, for anyone with a brain in their head, for an alternative to Mitt Romney on the auto issue,” Ballenger said.
Nerdy And Proud
The governor also shrugged off his difference with Romney over laws that prohibit labor contracts from requiring workers to pay union dues. Romney supports such laws and has criticized labor bosses at appearances in Michigan, home of the UAW. Snyder has called the issue too divisive and said he wants no part of so-called right-to-work legislation in 2012.
A governor doesn’t have to agree with all of a presidential candidate’s views to support him, said John Truscott, a Lansing consultant who was press secretary to Republican Governor John Engler in the 1990s. Romney’s opposition to the bailout carries little political risk for Snyder, he said.
“Frankly, I don’t think Governor Snyder cares,” Truscott said. “He’s not your typical political guy.”
Snyder is a former venture capitalist who paid for much of his own gubernatorial campaign in 2010, and often refers to himself as a nerd and a nonpolitician.
Snyder’s endorsement means little because he has no political machine to drum up voters, said Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer. Other Republicans have spoken in support of the bailout, he said.
The potential pitfalls of a presidential endorsement were demonstrated in 2000 when Engler backed George W. Bush in a primary against John McCain. Engler boasted that Michigan would be Bush’s “firewall.”
Instead, McCain, helped by Democrats and independents, beat Bush.
Engler’s support prodded union Democrats to work for McCain because of their dislike for Engler, Truscott said.
“I don’t think that same feeling exists toward Governor Snyder,” he said.
--Editors: Stephen Merelman, Rick Levinson
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