By JOHN FLESHER
---- — DETROIT (AP) — President Barack Obama's aggressive push to rescue the U.S. auto industry trumped former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's business credentials in Michigan during Tuesday's election, as voters put their trust in the incumbent to produce a recovery despite lingering concerns about where things are headed.
Preliminary results from an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and television networks showed that Obama narrowly edged Romney on the crucial question of who is better able to handle the economy. Romney, a native of Michigan whose father ran a car company and served as governor, had hoped those ties and his own experience as a CEO would propel him to victory in a state no Republican had carried since 1988.
But Obama's aid to General Motors and Chrysler was widely credited with helping them survive, while Romney famously called for letting the companies go through bankruptcy. About three in five Michigan voters interviewed for the exit poll approved of the bailout, and three-fourths of them backed the president. Romney did even better among those opposing the assistance program, but they made up only about one-third of the voters.
The economy weighed heavily in the minds of voters in a state whose economic performance was among the nation's worst for much of the past decade. Three in five said it was the top issue in the race, far above health care and the federal budget deficit, which were named by fewer than two in 10. Foreign policy scored even lower.
A slight majority sided with Obama on the crucial question of who would better handle the economy. While seven in 10 described the nation's economy as "not so good" or poor, there were signs of optimism. About four in 10 said things are getting better — significantly more than those who believe things are getting worse or staying the same. Two-thirds said their own family's situation is better or hasn't changed compared to four years ago.
Significantly, only about one-third of voters blamed Obama for current economic problems, while a solid majority said former President George W. Bush was more at fault.
"Obama had a lot to deal with when he came into office," William Mullins, 62, said after voting in Lansing. "You can't change everything overnight."
Tara Ward, 51, an education consulting firm worker from Traverse City, said Obama has "started to clean up a mess he was left when the Republicans left four years ago and I want him to continue."
Unemployment and rising prices were the two biggest economic concerns. Six in 10 of those most worried about jobs favored Obama, while those who picked inflation were evenly divided. Romney won by a two-to-one margin among those most concerned about taxes.
The exit poll reflected mixed results in the battle for swing voters. About three in five self-described moderates voted for Obama, while a slight majority of independents favored Romney.
Nearly six in 10 whites voted for Romney, but Obama prevailed widely with Hispanics and took the votes of more than nine in 10 blacks.
Voters who oppose abortion rights were solidly with Romney, who also drew majority backing from those who said the most important quality in a candidate was that he "shares my values" or that he is a strong leader.
"I'm a Christian. I vote my values," said Wayne Humphrey, 61, a Lansing financial controller who voted a straight GOP ticket.
The survey of 3,458 Michigan voters was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 45 precincts statewide Tuesday, as well as 502 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 28 through Nov. 2. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.