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Rick Santorum challenges Michigan to be 'game-changer'

February 16, 2012|By Paul West
  • Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum attends the Detroit Economic Club luncheon at the Cobo Center in Detroit.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum attends the Detroit… (Andre J. Jackson / Detroit…)

Reporting from Novi, Mich. — Taking his presidential candidacy into the Michigan county where his main rival, Mitt Romney, grew up, Rick Santorum attempted Thursday night to weld an emotional link between the capital of America's auto industry and his own blue-collar roots in the steel country of western Pennsylvania.

Santorum, who leads Romney in several recent Michigan polls, received an enthusiastic reception from 1,300 Republicans at the Oakland County Lincoln Day fundraising dinner at a cavernous hall in suburban Detroit.

"I come from steel country.  We feel that same pride about what we did to forge a great and powerful nation.  And there is no area of the country that can take more credit for that than you right here," he said.

"You helped build America.  You helped create wealth.  You moved people.  You created opportunities by what you built here.  It's amazing what you've contributed to the greatest country in the world," Santorum said to applause.

The former Pennsylvania senator never mentioned Romney, whose wife, Ann, addressed the crowd earlier in the evening (and received a warm but somewhat less enthusiastic greeting from the crowd than Santorum).

Instead, Santorum concentrated on President Obama, accusing him of fostering a dangerous overreach of government and an ever-increasing regulatory burden on the U.S. economy.

"This is a president who doesn't believe in you.  We need someone in this election--unlike in 2008, when Americans were looking for someone they could believe in--we need a president who believes in you.  That's the fundamental difference," he said to applause.

He closed his 30-minute speech with a pitch for himself as a GOP nominee who has the "bold vision" and "strength of character" to help Republicans defeat Obama and rebuild America.

Michigan, he said, has "an opportunity to be a game-changer in this primary. You have an opportunity to be a game-changer in the general election." 

The Feb. 28 balloting in Michigan is, along with Arizona's primary the same day, the next contest up on the Republican calendar.  It will probably shape the race heading into Super Tuesday one week later, when 11 states vote.

paul.west@latimes.com

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