Last week an unlikely 81-year-old emerged from the shadows into the glare of political controversy.
Clint Eastwood sauntered out of a dark-toned Chrysler Group Super Bowl spot to growl out a tribute to the revival of domestic automakers.
"Detroit's showing us it can be done, and what's true for them is true for all of us," the Academy Award-winner rasped, urging a revival of American confidence.
The next day the political fireworks began -- a likely harbinger of things to come.
Republican political consultant Karl Rove was the first to attack the commercial. Rove said it amounted to a political endorsement of President Obama, who has been touting the resurgence of Detroit automakers in his re-election campaign.
"The president of the United States and his political minions are in essence using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising," Rove charged.
Although Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne denied that the spot was political, the message for the automotive industry was clear: Like it or not, automakers are targets for election year sniping.
General Motors executives are concerned that the company will be in the campaign crossfire through November, said one person familiar with GM's internal discussions. They're resigned to the fact that GM ultimately will be a political lightning rod until the government sells its 33 percent stake in the company, which isn't likely to happen this year.
Obama critics attack on two fronts: the bailout of GM and Chrysler, and Department of Energy loans to foster advanced vehicle technology.
In fact, both programs started during George W. Bush's presidency. And Bush -- Rove's former boss -- last week told the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas that he approved the initial phase of the bailout because of the dire consequences of letting GM and Chrysler fail. Said Bush: "I'd make the same decision again if I had to."