FRANKENMUTH, Mich. – For most governors, an 8.5% unemployment rate would be a source of embarrassment.
Not in Michigan, a national symbol of Rust Belt decline where unemployment hit 14.2% in 2009.
So when Gov. Rick Snyder joined Mitt Romney on Monday at a rally in this remote central Michigan town built to resemble a medieval village in the Bavarian Alps, he could not resist boasting.
“We’re the comeback state in the United States,” said Snyder, the latest in a string of Republican governors whose sunny descriptions of a swing state on the rebound clash with Romney’s dark portrayal of economic wreckage under President Obama.
Snyder, however, was more careful than other governors campaigning with Romney to place his state’s recovery in the context of trouble brought on by anti-business policies of the Obama administration.
“Our comeback is being slowed down by the mess in Washington,” Snyder said. “And if you look at the issues there, they’re the same issues we had here. We need more and better jobs.”
When Obama took office in January 2009, Michigan’s unemployment rate was 11.3%. It rose to 14.2% in August 2009, but had slid back to 10.9% by the time Snyder took office in January 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since then, it has declined further to 8.5%.
Obama has made the federal bailout of Michigan’s auto industry a major facet of his reelection campaign – a rare bright spot in an otherwise sluggish economic recovery. The national unemployment rate ticked up last month from 8.1% to 8.2%.
In 2008, Obama won Michigan in a romp, defeating Republican John McCain, 57% to 41%.
Polls show Obama holding a narrower lead over Romney, who was born and raised in Michigan. His father, George Romney, was a Michigan governor who ran for president in 1968. His mother, Lenore Romney, ran for one of Michigan’s U.S. Senate seats in 1970.
At a sweltering Monday morning rally outside Frankenmuth’s Bavarian Inn Lodge, Romney played up his local roots. He recalled an embarrassing photo of him laughing as a 17-year-old boy with his parents at Zehnder’s restaurant in Frankenmuth.
“It just reminded me of being out campaigning with my mom and dad,” he told a few hundred supporters waving American flags.
“I sure remember being here in Frankenmuth – and the wonderful chicken,” he added. “You have a lot of chicken here in Frankenmuth. Oh yeah. Chicken and noodles. There’s good German food right here.”
Frankenmuth, settled by Lutheran German immigrants in the 1840s, is a remote tourist resort known for its Bavarian architecture and attractions such as Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, a huge holiday goods store. Romney’s visit came on the last day of his five-day tour of small towns and rural areas in six battleground states.
If he is lucky enough to win the presidency, Romney told the crowd at the rally, “I’ll be the first president to have been born in Michigan.”
“I won’t forget Frankenmuth,” Romney said. “I won’t forget Michigan.”
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