Mitt Romney autographs a baseball as he greets the crowd after a tea party… (Carlos Osorio / Associated…)
Reporting from Milford, Mich. — Looking to fend off a serious challenge from Rick Santorum in his home state, Mitt Romney returned to Michigan on Thursday night trolling for votes at gathering of eight tea party groups in the Detroit suburbs.
Romney, the son of Michigan's three-term Gov. George Romney, reminisced about Detroit's golden age, his first day of kindergarten and his early childhood in Palmer Park near 6 Mile and Woodward Avenue: "We had home there. It's been bulldozed now, because it turned, I guess, into an eyesore or a place that drugs were being used. So they had to tear it down. It was a lovely home," he said.
"At that time, Detroit was really the pride of the nation, this was the place. Everybody wanted to come to Detroit, get a job here," Romney said, recalling how his father, a former automobile executive, presided over the 50th celebration of the automobile on Woodward Avenue, which he said was covered with gold paint for a parade of cars. "What an extraordinary city this is – and how sad it is to see the city of Detroit suffering as it is now, and the entire state."
Reprising a line from his 2008 presidential campaign, Romney argued that Michigan has been grappling with a one-state recession and said President Obama's policies were to blame. "That recession ultimately spilled out across the entire nation.... America’s promise has been broken by this president," the former Massachusetts governor said.
After meeting up with his three rivals in Arizona for a debate Wednesday night, Romney returned to Michigan for an intensive final stretch of campaigning before Tuesday's primary. His advisors say he will be in the state each day through Tuesday with a brief break Sunday morning to attend the Daytona 500 race at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida. After stops in Flint, Lansing and Troy on Saturday, he plans to campaign Sunday night in Traverse City in the far northwestern corner of the state.
Santorum and Romney were in a statistical tie in a Detroit Free Press-WXYZ-TV poll published Thursday, which showed a striking geographic divide in Michigan. Romney led Santorum in Metro Detroit 41% to 26%, but Santorum drew considerably more support than his rival in the more conservative western and central regions.
Santorum’s campaign manager included the poll numbers in a missive seeking donations for the former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign: "The fact that Romney’s home state is this competitive is already a victory for Rick," Santorum campaign manager Mike Biundo wrote. But in his solicitation asking supporters to help them "fight back," he added that the "the Romney attack machine will be full throttle over the next few days, trying to win his home state of Michigan."
Several Romney advisors said after the debate that they believed the numbers in Michigan were shifting in their favor. "If you look at what happened in Michigan four years ago, we came in behind and then campaigned hard, came back from behind," his advisor Stuart Stevens said. "Similar situation now."