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(Updates with Romney quotes starting in seventh paragraph. For more on the campaign, ELECT.)
Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney told Michigan business leaders he’ll revive the state’s economy and the nation’s as a whole by lowering taxes and lessening the role of the federal government if he’s elected president.
“I believe the American people are ready for real leadership,” the Republican White House contender said in a speech today to the Detroit Economic Club. “I believe they really do deserve a bold, conservative plan for reform and growth.”
The speech, to a crowd seated on the field of a mostly vacant stadium where the Detroit Lions football team plays, came in Romney’s native state ahead of Michigan’s Feb. 28 primary, the same day Arizona holds a similar vote. Polls show a close race in Michigan between him and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; Romney leads in Arizona, surveys show.
A loss in the state where Romney was born would be an embarrassment for him and would provide a major boost to Santorum, who also was campaigning in Michigan today.
Romney in his speech highlighted the tax plan he outlined earlier this week that calls for a 20 percent across-the-board cut in individual income tax rates and would also lower the top rate to 28 percent, from 35 percent, for individuals, while limiting the deductions, exemptions and credits now available to higher-income Americans.
Growth, Spending Cuts
“These changes, I will not allow to raise the deficit,” Romney said. “Stronger economic growth, spending cuts and broadening the base will offset the reductions.”
The former Massachusetts governor and business executive said his proposed changes would encourage growth and investment and not “just penalize people for being successful.”
Romney, 64, criticized unions and management for the decline of the U.S. automotive industry, as well as federal fuel economy standards that he said hurt domestic car companies while providing benefits to some foreign competitors.
“Detroit should not just be the Motor City of America,” he said. “It’s got to be the Motor City of the entire world.”
Romney said he loves cars and that he drives a Mustang and a Chevy pickup, while his wife, Ann, has “a couple of Cadillacs.”
Romney’s focus on improving the economy and his criticism of the Obama administration as a “failed presidency” came as unemployment in Michigan has declined from a peak of 14.1 percent in August 2009 to 9.3 percent last December, the latest figure available. The national unemployment rate in January was 8.3 percent.
President Barack Obama’s campaign said Romney would have let the auto industry go bankrupt, referring to his opposition to the federal bailout of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.
The Obama campaign also said Romney is paying “lip service” to the middle class.
“Mitt Romney has proposed a fiscally irresponsible plan that would increase the deficit by $5 trillion over the next decade” and “provide millionaires with tax breaks 800 percent larger than those for the middle class,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in an e-mail after Romney spoke.
While the audience of several hundred inside the stadium were supportive of Romney, the atmosphere outside was hostile.
The United Auto Workers union had called on its members to stage a protest, drawing attention to Romney’s continued criticism of the $82 billion federal automotive bailout.
Several Democratic UAW members gathered in freezing rain and snow outside Ford Field said they’re planning to vote in the Republican primary to oppose Romney.
“It’s personal to us,” said Gail Lavigne, 43, a member of UAW Local 600 and employee of Ford Motor Co. “He didn’t want to try to help the auto companies, so it’s very personal -- it’s our jobs.”
While Lavigne said she voted for Obama in 2008 and will do so again in November, she’s planning to cast a ballot in the Michigan primary for either Santorum of Representative Ron Paul of Texas “to show Mitt that just because he’s from Michigan that we’re not going to support him.”
UAW member Jeff Hodges, 45, of Garden City, another Obama supporter, said he also plans to vote against Romney in the primary.
It sends “a strong message if he loses his own state,” he said. “If you’re no good in your own state, how can you be good anywhere else?”
Pat Sweeney, president of UAW Local 5960 in Lake Orion, said he’s heard members talking about doing the same thing.
“I haven’t heard that from the leadership or anything like that, but there are some members out there throwing that out there,” he said.
UAW President Bob King said the union isn’t encouraging members to vote in the Republican primary against Romney.
“Whatever members feel is right for them, that’s fine,” he said today in an interview outside the stadium. “I’m not encouraging it, I’m not discouraging it.”
UAW member Rachael Siemen, 41, of Port Huron, said she plans to vote for Santorum.
“If we drag this clown show out as long as we can, it’s just going to help us in the long run,” she said.
Democrats will account for about 10 percent of voters in the Republican primary, according to a recent poll by Lansing- based EPIC-MRA. Those Democrats are evenly divided between Santorum, Romney and Paul, said Bernie Porn, EPIC-MRA president.
The poll of 400 likely primary voters conducted Feb. 18-21 showed Santorum leading Romney, 37 percent to 34 percent. Almost half the respondents -- 45 percent -- said they would consider changing their minds before the primary. Other recent polls have shown Romney slightly ahead.
In Michigan’s 2000 Republican presidential primary, Democrats and independents were credited with helping Senator John McCain of Arizona defeat then-Texas Governor George W. Bush. Exit polls showed about 18 percent of those who voted in the Republican primary were Democrats and they chose McCain over Bush by a 4-to-1 ratio.
“If only Republicans had voted, Bush would have won,” Porn said.
Spending in Michigan on commercials by Romney’s team and a political action committee backing him outpaced comparable expenditures on behalf of Santorum by about 3-2, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG.
Romney’s campaign and the super-PAC Restore Our Future, which independently promotes his candidacy, spent $1.97 million to air ads 3,718 times on Michigan broadcast TV stations through Feb. 22, CMAG reported. Santorum and the super-Pac Red White and Blue Fund that supports him spent $1.25 million to air ads 3,178 times. The two super-PACs paid for 4,077 of the 6,896 ads, or 59 percent of the total.
Obama’s re-election campaign yesterday started running its own ad in Michigan with an eye to the state’s importance in November’s general election. The spot is critical of the opposition among all the Republican presidential candidates to the auto industry bailout.
MoveOn.org, a group that supports Obama, also will run an ad in Michigan taking aim at Romney’s stance on the auto industry rescue, the group said in an e-mail today.
The pro-Santorum super-PAC is spending $257,000 between now and Feb. 29 for television advertising in Ohio, one of the 11 states with March 6 “Super Tuesday” contests, according to Stuart Roy, a spokesman for the group.
In the Super Tuesday contests, more than 400 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination are at stake.
Romney was asked at the economic club gathering if he thought he had the best chance of beating Obama.
“I not only think I have the best chance and I think I have the only chance,” he said.
--With assistance from Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Greg Giroux in Washington, and Chris Christoff in Lansing, Michigan. Editors: Robin Meszoly, Don Frederick
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