LANSING, Mich. – President Bush needs to sit down with the heads of the Big Three automakers and do it soon, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos said Wednesday.
"We're being ignored here in Michigan by the White House, and it has got to stop," DeVos told reporters at his campaign headquarters in Lansing. "I'm just calling on the president now, and the White House, to get it done and to hold this meeting."
The president and the leaders from Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group have had scheduling conflicts since delaying a meeting that was supposed to take place in mid-June.
Bush had to miss that meeting so he could go to Arizona to discuss border security. The Big Three leaders had hoped to meet with Bush in May when they joined with congressional leaders to talk about energy policy, health care and trade issues, but that meeting never got set.
White House spokesman Alex Conant said Wednesday that he couldn't respond to DeVos' comments. But he reiterated that Bush does want to meet with the leaders of the domestic auto companies.
"They're an important part of the economy," Conant said. "The president always enjoys meeting with manufacturers, and we hope we can get something scheduled."
Ford spokesman Josh Gottheimer said last week that the companies and the White House have faced scheduling issues and he was confident a meeting would take place.
DeVos, the former president of Amway Corp. and its parent company, Alticor Inc., is a major contributor to Bush and to Republican causes. His wife, Betsy, raised more than $150,000 for Bush's 2004 campaign, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm has chastised the Bush administration several times for having failed to meet with automotive executives. In early July, she sent the president a letter urging him to stand by his word and plan a meeting.
"While the companies continue to transform themselves, their leaders are eager to meet with you to discuss many issues that would lead to a better way of maintaining Americas superior position in the design, production and sales of 21st century cars and trucks," Granholm wrote.
"I urge you to grant a meeting as soon as possible to our domestic automobile industry leaders to resolve critical issues and avoid serious harm to our nation's manufacturing sector and overall economic prosperity."
In response to her rival's call for Bush to schedule a meeting with automakers, the Granholm campaign said in a news release that "Dick DeVos was the largest contributor to Bush-Cheney 2004, but in front of the cameras he's happy to sing a different tune."
It released a copy of a 1993 article from The Grand Rapids Press quoting DeVos — then president of direct marketing firm Amway Corp. — saying the U.S. auto industry should "stop crabbing" about foreign competition and start doing practical things to market its cars abroad.
Also Wednesday, a new poll showed Granholm leading DeVos 49 percent to 42 percent in a statewide poll. Three percent said they'd vote for Libertarian Greg Creswell and 6 percent were undecided.
The survey of 600 likely voters by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA was the first time voters were asked about any third-party candidates, but not all third-party candidates were included in the poll.
The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday for a consortium made up of The Detroit News and television stations WXYZ in Southfield, WOOD in Grand Rapids, WILX in Lansing and WJRT in Flint. It had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
An EPIC-MRA poll conducted Aug. 9-14 showed the race was tighter, with 50 percent of likely voters saying they'd vote for Granholm and 47 percent choosing DeVos.
DeVos campaign manager Greg McNeilly dismissed the poll as inaccurate, saying it listed descriptions for DeVos — including one saying he was "another in a long line of business owners in the state who have shifted jobs overseas while laying off workers in Michigan" — that could have caused voters to have a negative impression of the Ada businessman.
EPIC-MRA Vice President Ed Sarpolus said the people polled were asked whom they would vote for before any descriptions of the candidates were read. He added the poll also included positive descriptions of DeVos, including one that referred to him as "a successful businessman who was the major force in helping to turn a struggling Alticor Corporation around."
Granholm campaign spokesman Chris De Witt noted that "this poll shows voters are not buying DeVos' negative ad campaign." However, 49 percent of those polled said the first-term governor had fallen short of expectations.