Friday, February 22, 2008

GOP front-runner McCain talks autos with executives


He looks to mend fences with voters, too


After losing the Michigan primary a month ago, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain made another move for Michigan's auto-centric voters Thursday -- visiting the Ford plant in Wayne and meeting with leaders of Detroit's embattled automotive industry.Just a year ago, Ford was planning to close the Wayne Stamping & Assembly Plant as part of its restructuring plan.

But after agreeing to a 4-year labor contract with the UAW, Ford decided to keep open the facility that employs 2,800 workers.

Before a tour of the plant, where Ford put several alternative-fuel vehicles on display, McCain spent time with Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, and Joe Hinrichs, Ford's group vice president for global manufacturing.

Later, he had a private meeting at the Somerset Inn in Troy with Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Co. CEO; Bob Nardelli, Chrysler LLC chairman and CEO; and Fritz Henderson, General Motors Corp.'s chief financial officer.

McCain's visit and meetings show the presumptive Republican nominee is trying to improve his image in the state.

Not only does McCain support increased fuel efficiency standards, his comments about job losses being permanent seemed to rub many people in Michigan the wrong way a month ago.

"I know how difficult the economy has been here and how tough it's been on the families of this state. And I've got to look you in the eye and say that some of those jobs aren't coming back," he said during a visit on Jan. 10, just days before the Republican primary on Jan. 15.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- who won the Michigan primary -- pounced on those comments and since then, McCain has been trying to reach out and emphasize how much he wants to help the auto companies.

"I am wildly optimistic about the future of this industry," McCain said at the Detroit auto show on Jan. 14.

At the Chrysler exhibit that day, McCain had a long conversation with Nardelli about the fuel economy standards Congress passed.

But Democrats won't let McCain downplay his comments about job losses.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. John Dingell issued the following statement:

"The last time he was in Michigan, Sen. McCain talked about jobs lost and said they would never come back. That's not straight talk -- that is surrender."

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