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Mitt Romney at Ford Field in Detroit, Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. (AP)

Romney's Big-Stadium Speech Makes Some Ask: Why Union-Bash In Detroit?

Feb 24, 2012

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Mitt Romney made what his campaign billed as a big economic speech Friday at Ford Field, home of the NFL's Detroit Lions which can hold 65,000 people.

Photos of Romney's crowd of 1,200 members of the Detroit Economic Club seated at the 30 yard line against a backdrop of all those empty seats didn't necessarily present the kind of image a presidential campaign normally strives for just days before an important primary, in this case Michigan's.

Romney's campaign said the club changed the event from the originally scheduled hotel venue when it became clear that strong ticket sales required a larger room.

In any event, in terms of the substance of the speech, as NPR correspondent Ari Shapiro reported on All Things Considered Friday, Romney didn't offer much that was new. He essentially reprised key points of his economic proposals.

ARI: He went through his plans to shrink government and lower taxes. He wants to reduce everyone's rates. He says he'll pay for the tax cuts by eliminating unspecified deductions.

ROMNEY: "These changes I will not allow to raise the deficit. Stronger economic growth, spending cuts and broadening the base will offset the reductions."

ARI: For the most part these are ideas Romney has talked about before. There were a few new proposals — for example, raising the Medicare elligibility age by a month each year, then locking it in to increase with life expectancy.

The audience generally responded with polite applause.

Some in the audience questioned a staple of Romney's speeches, his union bashing, especially in Michigan of all places.

ROMNEY: In my view, the industry got in trouble because the UAW asked for too much, management gave too much, and the government CAFE standards hurt domestic automakers... As we look forward, the UAW must not imperil the future of the industry.

The Detroit News' Marisa Schultz quoted a Republican who attended the speech who had doubts about Romney's anti-union message.

Nick Singelis of Flint said he's not sure who he'll choose Tuesday. He's a Republican but he can't understand why Romney continues to attack unions in Michigan — and again in Detroit.

"Taking pot shots at the union doesn't serve either candidate well," said Singelis of Shiners International. Again on Friday in Ford Field, he called Romney's jab at the UAW — "a huge communication error."

Tom Walsh, a business columnist for the Detroit Free Press, sounded a similar note:

Even if Romney is partially right about the past — heck, even UAW President Bob King concedes his union made mistakes — why go out of your way to alienate a big voting bloc just to score a point or two with the presumably anti-union crowd that votes in GOP primaries?

Doesn't Romney recall that one of the great political feats of former President Ronald Reagan was that the conservative Reagan won lots of blue-collar votes in Michigan?

Schultz of the Detroit News reported that there were those in the audience who liked the blame Romney heaped on unions, so his message clearly had some appeal.

Still, with a race in which the most recent polls suggest that Romney is in a statistical dead heat with Rick Santorum, Romney could lose more than he gains if his anti-union comments lead enough blue-collar workers with Republican leanings to vote for his rival Santorum who has been making direct appeals to working-class Midwesterners.

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