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Romney in a Michigan Rut Romney in a Michigan Rut

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Romney in a Michigan Rut

Earlier this month, I noted that President Obama was making significant inroads in a handful of key Rust Belt battlegrounds, even winning over some blue-collar voters that once seemed unreachable.  And a new Michigan poll out today confirms that trend, and strongly suggests that the administration's bailout of the auto industry has played an important role in his growing popularity in the region.

The new NBC/Marist poll contains gloomy news for Republican Mitt Romney, who was born and raised in Michigan, but is struggling to make inroads with statewide voters -- both in the GOP primary and against Obama.   Romney is caught between appealing to conservative voters uneasy with government intervention in the private sector in a primary, and an overall Michigan electorate that overwhelmingly supports the government bailout of the auto industry.

So far, Romney isn't winning over either crowd.  He narrowly leads Rick Santorum, 37 to 35 percent, in the primary but trails badly (59 to 20 percent) among the most conservative segment of the electorate.  His two-point lead is hardly impressive, given his home-state connections and financial edge over the former Pennsylvania senator.

Meanwhile, Obama leads Romney by 18 points, 51 to 33 percent, in a general election matchup.  Obama's standing is attributable as much to his own support as it is to Romney's weaknesses. (Obama holds an even larger lead over Santorum, 55 to 29 percent.)  The president's job approval rating in the state is above-water, at 51 percent.  And 58 percent of Michigan votes believe that Obama deserves "a great deal of credit" or "a good amount of credit" for the recovery of the auto industry.

When asked whether the "bailout of the auto industry" was a good idea or a bad idea, 63 percent said it was a good idea, with just 28 percent opposing it. Even 41 percent of Republicans in Michigan said they supported the bailout.

These numbers go a long way in explaining Romney's gauzy focus on his autobiography, instead of articulating free-market policies that conservatives are hoping to hear. 

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