Traverse City, Michigan — This may be the last state Mitt Romney ever thought he could lose. After all, his father, George Romney, was Michigan’s governor, and Mitt spent his childhood in the state, a fact he weaves into his speeches while campaigning here.
But while Rick Santorum’s lead has evaporated over the last couple of weeks — no doubt in part because of the massive blitz on the airwaves from the Romney campaign and Romney’s super PAC, Restore Our Future — he and Romney remain virtually tied. The Great Lakes State is still very much in play and, with rumblings from the GOP establishment about finding a new candidate to enter the race if Romney can’t manage to prevail in his home state, it has become must-win for Romney.
“He’s fighting like an underdog. We’re closing fast, and he’s not going to stop fighting until Tuesday at 8pm,” says Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette, Romney’s state-campaign chairman. “It’s crunch time. This is a barnburner of a campaign we’re waging here in Michigan.” Romney, adds Schuette, “is a fighter . . . the fighter for Michigan and the fighter for Michigan jobs.”
“He makes Mark Wahlberg look tame,” Schuette claims, alluding to Wahlberg’s role as a boxing champ in 2010 film The Fighter. “This guy is committed to bringing Michigan back and America back, and it’s all about paychecks, paychecks, paychecks.”
But it’s shared ties, not punches, that Romney is relying on to help him connect with Michigan voters. Working to gain momentum in the state, the candidate is touting his local roots. At a Sunday event in Traverse City, a resort town adjoining a bay off Lake Michigan, Romney recalled how Ann Romney’s parents had owned a cottage in another Michigan town, Manistee. “I actually kissed her there,” Romney said, his wife beside him. “Oh yeah, oh yeah. She was 16. I was 18.”
Ann Romney acknowledged the kiss (“my father caught us, by the way”), and spoke affectionately of her childhood in the state. “I loved the Great Lakes. I would swim in Lake Michigan, and I climbed the sand dunes here. And who loves Petoskey stones?” she asked, the audience approvingly cheering her reference to a fossil found along Michigan’s shores. “There’s some people in the country who don’t know what Petoskey stones are. It’s unbelievable.”
Many of Romney’s remarks — delivered beneath a huge banner reading “Cut the Spending” — were fiscal-centered, as he discussed his job-creation and debt-reduction plans. But he briefly targeted Santorum and Newt Gingrich: “The other two sort of leading contenders are folks who spent their life in Washington, working there and being elected officials there,” he said. “I don’t think you can change Washington if you’ve been part of the culture of Washington.”
“The other night at the debate when one of them said that he voted . . . for something he disagreed with,” Romney said, referencing Santorum’s explanation of his vote for the No Child Left Behind Act, “he said he did it to take one for the team. Look, my team is the people of Michigan [and] of America, and I’m going to fight for you.”