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Romney Faces Challenges in "Home State" of Michigan

Romney Faces Challenges in "Home State" of Michigan

By Scott Conroy - February 16, 2012


Following his bruising defeats in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary four years ago, Mitt Romney's hopes for mounting a comeback against John McCain and Mike Huckabee seemed dim when his campaign plane landed in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Jan. 9, 2008.

Over the next week, Romney mentioned at nearly every opportunity his connection to the state in which he was born and raised, repeatedly citing the "thrill" of returning to a place where the "trees are just the right height, almost all of the cars are American-made" and where the locals "know that 'pop' refers to a drink, not a relative."

At just about every campaign stop, he told old stories about the Ramblers that American Motors manufactured under the leadership of his father, George, who went on to serve as governor of Michigan for six years.

Romney paid an emotional visit to the state capitol and paused where his father’s body had once lain in state.

In a more lighthearted moment, the former Massachusetts governor brought in front of the cameras Gloria Blazo, his first-grade teacher in the early 1950s, who recalled the days when Willard Mitt Romney went by the name of “Billy.”

All of it seemed to work. After starting the week trailing in the polls to McCain, Romney steadily gained ground, the swelling crowds responding to the personal touch that their native son had struggled to convey elsewhere.

“For me, Michigan is personal,” Romney said in Traverse City, three days before his nine-point victory, which temporarily revitalized a campaign that fizzled later that month in Florida.

With Romney once more trailing in the Michigan polls, and facing what may again be a do-or-die state for his White House hopes, he apparently has no intention of altering his strategy from four years ago.

“Michigan’s been my home, and this is personal,” Romney says at the end of a 30-second TV advertisement titled “Growing Up,” which began airing statewide this week.

In the ad, old family photos are interspersed with recent video of the candidate driving himself across the state, as he recalls visiting the Detroit auto show with his father.

According to 2008 exit polls, 42 percent of Michigan voters in the GOP primary said Romney’s roots in the state were important or somewhat important.

His Michigan backers are once again hopeful that this home-state pedigree and family link to the state’s dominant industry will once again lead him to victory.

“There is no question Romney’s ties in Michigan are significant and his roots and understanding of our state are deep,” said Saul Anuzis, who chaired the candidate’s 2008 Michigan campaign and endorsed Romney again last September. “This will help him.”

But even as he predicted a second triumph in the state, Anuzis was careful to add a caveat.

“I think those who have spun that this is an easy win are playing the expectations game,” he said.

Indeed, Romney’s Michigan path will not be easy.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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