DETROIT — When President Barack Obama appeared Saturday in Detroit to rally Michigan Democrats three days before Election Day, three years had passed since he last made a stop in the city.

In a keynote focused largely on the importance of turning out voters Tuesday, Obama plugged his administration’s hand in the resurgence of the state’s automobile industry.

“I don’t have to tell you the auto industry that was on the brink of collapse is back on its feet, making better cars than ever, right here in Michigan,” he said. “It’s a testament to the grit and the resilience of American workers.”

Obama’s visit to Detroit Saturday was the first of his second term. Though the president has made several trips to Michigan in recent years, including two stops in Ann Arbor to promote student loan reform and a proposal to raise the minimum wage, the president has largely steered clear of the city of Detroit.

Instead, the White House opted to send Vice President Joe Biden, who has appeared in the city twice in the last year alone. Obama did not travel to Michigan at all during his 2012 campaign.

Before the president ascended the podium, several Democratic leaders framed the Obama presidency as a major force in determining the city and state’s fate during the early years of the economic recession.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who has been the most visible face of Detroit’s recovery, cited Obama’s role in the city’s rebound, including securing funds for blight-fighting efforts and making health care accessible for 80,000 Detroiters.

“Anybody else here get angry when you watch the news and hear people say our country hasn’t gotten any better under President Obama?” Duggan said. “And I think, maybe in other places they don’t remember, but we remember in Michigan what it was like six years ago when the auto companies were in bankruptcy, when there were thousands of layoffs, it looked like we didn’t have any hope, and the president did something politically unpopular. … We’re going to remember here in Detroit.”

Duggan emphasized Obama’s support for the federal bailout of the automobile industry, a choice that has surfaced as a campaign issue in the U.S. Senate race in recent weeks. The bailout included $80 million in federal support for automakers and guided Chrysler and General Motors through bankruptcy proceedings.

Terri Lynn Land, the state’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, has said she would have supported the auto bailout, though her opponent, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D–Mich.), has claimed otherwise. And in a dig at incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer noted that Mitt Romney, the 2012 presidential candidate of the current governor’s party, said he would have let Detroit’s auto industry go bankrupt.

Snyder has been the subject of both criticism and praise with regard to Detroit’s recovery. Many have chided Snyder’s decision to appoint an unelected emergency manager to lead the city through bankruptcy, while others have applauded the significant political capital he has spent on Detroit.

In contrast, Obama said it was Peters and Schauer who stood by Detroit and the state’s automotive industry, in part by supporting the bailout.

“When the chips were down and our most iconic industry was on the line, they said, ‘We shouldn’t walk away,’ ” Obama said. “If the auto industry went down, communities across this state and Midwest would have gone down, too.”

In the 2012 presidential election, more than 288,000 Detroit voters turned out in November, with 97.6 of those votes cast for Obama. In 2008, Detroiters delivered 325,525 votes for the president.

During his remarks, Schauer noted the president was able to win Michigan in 2012 without appearing in the state.

“We elected President Obama twice and the last time he didn’t have to campaign here,” Schauer said.

But two years earlier, in an election that did not feature a presidential race but included a gubernatorial contest, only 175,941 Detroiters went to the polls, casting 165,038 votes for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero. Snyder, who is now running for reelection, won by 587,514 votes in Michigan.

“So, look, Michigan, you’ve had my back twice,” Obama said. “You’ve had my back twice. I love this state. But here’s the problem. In recent years, Michigan has led the nation in the number of voters who vote for president but then stay home during the midterms. According to one estimate, you got 900,000 folks in Michigan who voted in 2008 and then didn’t vote in 2010 — 900,000. I don’t know what’s going on with those folks. But we’ve got to let them know their vote matters.”

Though candidates across the country are rolling out last-minute efforts to turn out voters, most Democrats seeking statewide office have not chosen Obama as their rallying figure. He has appeared for only a handful of Democratic gubernatorial candidates this election year, and Peters is the only Senate candidate to invite Obama to join him on the campaign trail.

Aaron Kall, director of the University’s debate team and an expert on election politics, said Obama boasts a higher-than-average approval rating in Michigan, driven in part by the president’s support for the auto bailout. Obama’s most recent job approval in the state stands at 48 percent, compared to about 40 percent nationally.

“Michigan is one of the places where he can still serve as an asset for the Senate race and the governor’s race,” Kall said.

While Obama hadn’t appeared in Detroit for several years, Kall said the city’s fiscal troubles likely didn’t factor into those decisions, noting Ann Arbor was a better backdrop for pushing student loan reform and East Lansing provided the best optics for signing the Farm Bill.

When asked in an interview with The Michigan Daily whether he would have liked to see Obama on the campaign trail or in Detroit more frequently, Peters deferred, noting the president had visited the state multiple times in the last year.

However, Kall said the Democratic Party’s decision to hold Saturday’s rally in Detroit likely has to do with the city’s sizable African-American population as well as its position as a symbol of the auto industry recovery.

Schauer, and almost all of the other candidates on hand, repeatedly emphasized that getting voters to turn out, especially in places like Detroit, is critical.

“The road to the governor’s office runs right through Detroit and it will be decided by you,” he said.

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