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Romney Jump-Starts Campaign in Michigan

By Justin Miller

DEARBORN, MI -- Mitt Romney used Michigan to jump-start the engine of his presidential campaign yesterday when he announced his candidacy at the historic Henry Ford museum, flanked by the Nash Rambler his dad George Romney helped produce as an auto executive, a new Ford hybrid and gleaming silver-and-blue DC 3 airplane.

Romney is looking for a big boost in the state after he received only eight percent support among likely GOP primary voters in a poll last month, fourth-place behind Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Newt Gingrich. The result was a bit surprising for Romney, who it was thought would poll higher as the namesake to a popular Michigan governor. But George Romney served during the 1960s - so long ago only retirees in the state really remember him well. Romney's speech aimed to bolster his stature here by simply kicking off in the state and he received some help from the local press, which has framed him as Michigan's presidential candidate, not Massachusetts's.

I spoke to a political consultant at the event who is heavily involved in state politics. He said he wasn't worried about Romney's chances and thought his stock would rise once more people got to know him. Certainly more do now: local stations carried the speech live and the major dailies are framing Romney as a candidate returning to his "native home" and as "the closest White House candidate Michigan has had since Gerald Ford." There has been little mention of his 30-year residency in Massachusetts and no "carpetbagger" barbs so far.

Today's kickoff is the biggest swoop of his barnstorming in Michigan. Last week he addressed the Detroit Economic Club, followed by a speech to the state GOP convention, and immediately after his speech he was whisked away to Iowa and South Carolina with much of the press corps in tow.

Appearances aside, Romney's speech was notable for its emphasis on economic policy and government reform. About as long was the portion focused on the fight against "jihadists" and the goal of "seeking stability in Iraq, with additional troops endeavoring to secure the civilian population." Romney didn't speak about a democratic Iraq, only a stable one.

Challenges to the family consumed the smallest portion of the speech, though it received some of the loudest applause: family values and morals are "under constant attack," but the family can be strengthened with traditional marriage, lower taxes, successful schools and healthcare that is affordable and portable."

This was Mitt Romney as Mr. Fix-It, not Mr. Conservative as his campaign has tried to make him out to be in recent months, and others doubting the sincerity of his conversion from Massachusetts moderate to American conservative.

Michigan won't be a pushover for Romney. Though he's built one of the strongest organizations of his campaign here, so too has McCain who won the state's GOP primary in 2000. Competition between the two has been fierce, with an endorsement for one candidate followed by the other within a day. The McCain-Romney proxy war tore the state GOP apart with RNC committeeman for Michigan, Chuck Yob, a strong McCain supporter, lining up last fall against Michigan GOP chair Saul Azunis who is seen as a strong supporter of Romney. Azunis was re-elected and the spat seems to have passed. Though someone should have told that to the protestors calling Romney a "flip-flopper" at the state convention last weekend. Who did the Romney campaign blame? McCain.

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