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DETROIT — Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum advocated an economic plan that emphasizes manufacturing during an address Thursday afternoon to the Detroit Economic Club.
Although both he and rival Mitt Romney support spending cuts and a simplified tax code, Mr. Santorum told an audience of about 300 executives — including some from the auto industry — that his plan differs from Mr. Romney’s because it would completely eliminate corporate taxes on manufacturers.
“We need an economic plan that includes everybody,” he said.
He also explained several other tenants of his plan during his 27-minute speech, such as cutting $5 trillion over five years, returning to a “Reagan-era” top income tax rate of 28 percent, and tripling personal deductions for each child.
During a question-and-answer session after the speech, another distinction emerged between the two candidates on the topic of organized labor.
Mr. Romney said during a Thursday morning appearance in Monroe that he supported a national “right-to-work” law, which would end the requirement that employees join their workplace unions.
Mr. Santorum, who said his grandfather was a treasurer of his mine workers union, said he wasn’t afraid to take on unions, especially public employee unions which he said have an “intrinsically unfair” collective bargaining position. But he stopped short of promoting a national right-to-work law, saying he would leave that decision to individual states.
“I have no problem with private sector unions,” Mr. Santorum said. He called them a “mediating institution,” meaning they provide a safety net not unlike charities or churches.
Mr. Santorum did not shy away from his opposition to the federal government’s bailout of the auto industry, even while in the Motor City. Instead, he criticized Mr. Romney for supporting a bailout of the financial industry, but not Chrysler or GM.
“I opposed what the Bush administration did and have been a consistent critic of it,” he said. “I actually blame President Bush more than President Obama. President Bush set the precedent and it was the wrong precedent.”
Until recently, Mr. Romney was considered the favorite in Michigan. A Detroit native, his father George Romney was an auto company executive and governor during the 1960s. Mitt Romney won the Republican primary here in 2008 and, on Thursday, picked up an endorsement from Gov. Rick Snyder.
But Mr. Santorum’s wins last week in Colorado, Minnesotta, and Missouri have helped propel him to the top of state polls in Michigan and Ohio.
As a result, an airwave battle has broken out between the two candidates in recent days. An ad funded by a pro-Romney super PAC attacks Mr. Santorum’s voting record in the U.S. Senate, calling him a “big spender” and “Washington insider.” Mr. Santorum’s campaign, which is struggling to match Mr. Romney in fund-raising, responded Wednesday with an advertisement depicting a Rambo-like Mr. Romney firing mud at a cardboard cutout of Mr. Santorum. The ad, titled “Rombo,” accuses Mr. Romney of “trying to hide from his big government Romneycare, and his support for job killing cap and trade.”
Although Mr. Santorum emphasized differences between himself and Mr. Romney, he didn’t fail to criticize President Obama. When asked about the need for re-training workers for a new manufacturing economy, for example, Mr. Santorum said he would support for-profit colleges, unlike the Obama administration which has demonized them.
Michigan voters will decide which candidate deserves their support in the state’s Feb. 28 primary. Mr. Santorum will attempt to woo more of those voters during an address Thursday night at the Oakland County, Mich., Lincoln Day Dinner.