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Former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard, as a congressman, spent five months helping steer the Chrysler loan guarantees through the House. “They don’t have this kind of time now, in my opinion,” he said.

U.S. automakers also face a different market now. None of the Japanese companies had started building cars in the United States in 1979, and Detroit’s automakers held more than three-fourths of the market. Cars carrying foreign nameplates represented 49 percent of U.S. sales last year.

Now, Mr. Hyde says, “The minute you leave Detroit, most of the rest of the county says, ‘We’re not against the auto industry, we’re only against those backward Detroit companies.’ ”