Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney waves to the crowd before… (John Raoux / Associated…)
Reporting from Grand Rapids, Mich. — Creeping up in the polls, Mitt Romney said he is expecting to notch a win over rival Rick Santorum in his home state of Michigan on Tuesday.
During an interview with "Fox News Sunday," the former Massachusetts governor said momentum is moving in his direction and pushed back against criticism of his remarks Friday about his family’s collection of cars.
Romney, who taped the interview Saturday before flying to Florida for the Daytona 500 NASCAR race, spoke to Fox’s Chris Wallace at the end of a rocky week for his campaign. Though he is gaining ground against Santorum days before the crucial Michigan primary, his campaign veered off track Friday when he delivered a speech on the 30-yard-line of Detroit's Ford Field surrounded by thousands of empty stadium seats.
Though the venue had been chosen by the Detroit Economic Club after tickets for an initial venue sold out in 90 minutes, the poor optics gave an opening to Romney's critics to argue that he is not generating excitement for his candidacy. He compounded the problem by making an offhand reference to his wife's "couple of Cadillacs," which detracted attention from the speech.
Asked by Wallace whether those kind of comments have hampered his efforts to connect with average Americans, Romney replied: "I can't be perfect. I just am who I am."
He noted that he's talked about his family's cars before, suggesting that he wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. "We have a car that we have in California, and we’ve got a car that we have back in Boston, where our other home is. That's just the way it is."
"If people think there's something wrong with being successful in America, then they'd better vote for the other guy," said Romney, who headed the private equity and venture capital firm Bain Capital before entering politics. "Because I've been extraordinarily successful. And I want to use that success and that know-how to help the American people."
"In terms of connecting with the American people," he continued. "I've got more votes than anybody else in this race so far. I've been the guy that's been able to connect in New Hampshire, and in Florida, and in Nevada, and I think we're on track to do pretty well here in Michigan and in Arizona."
"I’m expecting to get the nomination, in part, because I understand how this economy works. I, by virtue of my experience, know what it takes to create jobs. I've also balanced budgets. Other people talk about doing that, I've actually done it as a governor, as a head of the Olympics and as a guy who’s run businesses."
Romney also answered a question that he dodged during this past week’s Republican presidential debate in Mesa, Ariz. CNN’s John King had asked the candidates to address the biggest misconception about them among voters. Romney told Wallace it is the idea that he's not conservative simply because he served as governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts.
"You look at my record in Massachusetts and see that I've balanced budgets, lowered taxes 19 times, enforced illegal-immigration laws, got English immersion in our schools, stood up for traditional marriage, was a pro-life governor. I'm a solid conservative, a committed conservative with the kind of principles I think America needs."
After his visit to Florida for the Daytona 500, Romney is scheduled to return to Michigan on Sunday afternoon for an evening rally in Traverse City -- just a few hours after Santorum holds an event there.