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Dearborn โ€” Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gary Peters strove Thursday to underscore a key difference between himself and Republican opponent Terri Lynn Land โ€” his stance on the 2009 auto industry bailout.

The Democratic congressman from Bloomfield Township backed the Obama administration's move to give federal aid to General Motors and Chrysler. The aid was accompanied by President Barack Obama's insistence the two automakers go through quick bankruptcies.

At an August 2012 forum, former Secretary of State Land said she agreed on auto bailouts with then GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said he wanted the automakers to file for bankruptcy first before they were given federal aid. A Land spokeswoman in March said Land also "thought that there were other solutions that could have also been explored."

On Thursday morning, in a listening session with several United Auto Workers members here, Peters said the bailout issue alone should make the choice for voters easy in November.

"In my mind, I don't know how you can be running for the U.S. Senate and say you would not have supported the No. 1 industry in your state with hundreds of thousands of jobs," he said during an appearance at Joe's Top Dog Coney Island.

In the small audience was UAW member Chris Sanders, who said the historical characterization of the rescue is off-base.

"I believe the banks were a bailout," he said. "I believe the auto loans were a reinvestment."

Land spokeswoman Heather Swift challenged the legacy of Peters' decision to back the bailout, since he also supported in 2009 a $529 million federal loan to automaker Fisker to make a plug-in electric car at an old GM factory in Delaware after making its first-generation vehicle in Finland. Fisker filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and was sold in an auction this year to China's Wanxiang America Inc. for $149.2 million.

"When Gary Peters talks about supporting the auto industry, it's important to know he's talking about outsourcers and foreign corporations," Swift said. "Because of Gary Peters' lobbying, ... Michigan jobs were sent to Finland and China. Michigan auto workers cannot trust Gary Peters to put Michigan first because he is too busy putting China first."

The Peters campaign responded by calling it a "wild claim."

"Terri Lynn Land proved she couldn't be trusted on Michigan jobs the minute she scornfully called GM 'Government Motors' and opposed the auto rescue," Peters campaign spokeswoman Haley Morris said. "... Gary welcomes the opportunity to compare his record fighting to save or create thousands of Michigan jobs and our auto industry with Terri Lynn Land's position to let our auto industry and middle class fail in a debate."

At a later event at the Wally Edgar Chevrolet dealership in Orion Township, more than a dozen UAW workers showed up to talk with Peters. Most were there to express their appreciation for Peters' support in seeking and getting federal financial support for the automakers and helping to keep their local plant open.

"We need to build up our middle class โ€” he (Peters) has helped many of us maintain our lives and homes by helping to keep the (Orion) plant open," said Al Yates, a UAW union representative.

Peters returned compliments to his supporters, noting that their sacrifice and hard work had changed "what could have been a catastrophe" if the plant had been closed.

"Today you are making the Sonic," said Peters, gesturing at shiny models in the dealership showroom. "You've show that a compact car can be made by U.S. union workers better than anyone else in the world and that car can be sold at a good profit for the company. It would not have happened without you."

jlynch@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2034

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