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Obama's speech to autoworkers trumpets value of federal bailout

President Obama delivered a rousing, combative speech Tuesday to United Auto Workers members, chastising his would-be Republican rivals for opposing a government intervention he said helped save the American auto industry and promising to battle on to protect the rights of workers.

"I placed my bet on the American worker," Obama said, referring to the government's investment in General Motors and Chrysler in 2009. "And now, three years later that bet is paying off. Not just paying off for you, it's paying off for America."

The timing and mood of the speech were notable: As Obama delivered it to 1,600 UAW members in Washington, voters in Michigan were helping to decide which Republican should face the Democratic president in the fall's election.

Waves of applause interrupted the speech several times. Obama was slipping into an easy campaign mode, indicating how central the rescue of GM and Chrysler -- now gaining market share, adding jobs, posting profits -- will be to his re-election campaign this year.

Obama, without mentioning anyone by name, noted Republican candidate Mitt Romney's column in the New York Times in November 2008, headlined "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." And he pointedly said that although some -- including Romney -- suggested that private financing and a managed bankruptcy could have saved the companies, there was no such financing available.

"More than 1 million Americans across the country would have lost their jobs in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," Obama said.

As to Republican claims that the Democrat-friendly UAW was saved from deep cuts, unlike the auto companies' bondholders, Obama simply rejected the argument, noting that many workers saw hours reduced or wages cut as retirees made sacrifices on health care benefits.

"Even by the standards of this town, that's a load of you-know-what," Obama said.

Although Romney has taken much of the brunt of the criticism for opposing the rescue of GM and Chrysler, all of the Republican presidential candidates were opposed to it. Even Rick Santorum, Romney's chief rival in Michigan, asked Democrats to cross party lines and vote for him because of Romney's auto rescue positions -- without explaining that he also was against the rescue.

"You guys helped to write the American story," Obama told the crowd. "And today, you're busy writing a proud new chapter. You are reminding us that no matter how tough times get, Americans are tougher."