LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan Democratic Rep. Gary Peters sought Monday to put Republican Terri Land on the defensive in their U.S. Senate race by highlighting her 2012 opposition to the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, which is widely credited with saving the U.S. auto industry.
Peters and other Democrats were expected to draw attention to statements Land made at a Republican National Convention event two years ago in which she backed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's anti-bailout position. Asked at a Washington Times-sponsored event about Romney and the bailout, she said "I'm with him on that" and noted that Ford survived without the rescue package.
Land said Ford's executive chairman, Bill Ford, "got a loan ... so people know that could have been done," adding that GM was known as "General Government" and "Government Motors." President Barack Obama and others have said Romney's approach would never have worked because no private capital was available to keep GM and Chrysler afloat.
After writing a 2008 New York Times column with the fateful "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" headline, Romney struggled to gain a footing in Rust Belt states where auto manufacturing is crucial. In Michigan, which has more auto industry-related jobs than any other state, Democrats are hoping Land pays a similar price in the tight race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin -- a contest that will factor into which party controls the Senate.
The comments by Land, a former Michigan secretary of state who had recently been elected to the Republican National Committee, had flown under the radar until now.
Land spokeswoman Heather Swift said Monday that she knows how important the auto industry is to Michigan, the "auto state."
"Terri has always believed that something needed to be done to address the auto crisis, but was not convinced on the specific plan that was proposed," Swift said in a written statement. "Thanks to the resiliency of the American worker and a stronger global economy, our autos are back."
Peters scheduled an early afternoon campaign event at a United Auto Workers local in Sterling Heights, where he planned to tout the auto industry's comeback and bring attention to Land's opposition to the auto bailout.
In a conference call arranged by the state Democratic Party, Michigan Rep. Sander Levin said Land's comment should disqualify her as a candidate.
"This was a matter, a moment, of supreme importance for this state," he said. "She said this a few years after the survival of the state in terms of its economy."
Five years have passed since the bailout was authorized under both the Bush and Obama administrations during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. But Levin said voters' memories won't fade about a "basic economic issue."
Republicans have relentlessly blamed Peters -- a third-term congressman -- for his support of the federal health care law, which resulted in the cancellation of policies for people whose plans didn't meet the law's standards. Their cause has been bolstered by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative Koch brothers-financed group that already has spent more than $1.7 million on TV and radio ads against Peters this year.
Peters, who has been focusing on fundraising and recently finished a campaign swing through the Upper Peninsula, has decided to more actively confront Land himself.