Mitt Romney’s Michigan campaign headquarters in a suburban Detroit office building isn’t much bigger than a two-car garage. Fewer than a dozen volunteers and staff members milled about the cramped office late last week dialing potential voters on cell phones.
The headquarters didn’t open until Feb. 18, just 10 days before the state’s primary election and well after opponent Rick Santorum surged in polls and it became clear Romney would need a serious campaign machine to prevent an embarrassing upset in his native state.
After a woman at a Romney event in Kalamazoo complained that she’d received nine telephone calls either pitching him or critical of Santorum, the candidate quickly responded.
“I’m disappointed that you received nine calls,” the former Massachusetts governor and private equity executive said. “You should have received a lot more by now.”
Turning out voters will be critical for both men, with polls showing a close race in Michigan (BEESMI), while Romney leads in Arizona (BEESAZ). Both states will hold primaries on Feb. 28.
A Romney loss in Michigan, where he spent his boyhood and where his father, George Romney, served as a popular three-term governor and was an automobile company chief executive, would undermine his claims to front-runner status in a path to the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nomination.
Super Tuesday Momentum
This week’s primaries will provide momentum heading into the so-called Super Tuesday on March 6, when 11 states will hold contests. More than 400 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination will be at stake then.
“They all have had a good presence here, but obviously Romney more so than the others,” said Bobby Schostak, the Michigan party chairman. “He’s got relationships with folks on both sides of the state.”
As modest as Romney’s Michigan campaign infrastructure is, it’s still more robust than Santorum’s: Campaign workers at Santorum's events have been less aggressive in trying to collect names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, a practice that helps build databases used to cajole voters to go their polling places.
Steve Mitchell, an East Lansing-based polling expert, said he expects Santorum to rely on fellow Catholics, evangelical churches and organizations that oppose abortion rights to help drive his turnout.
Santorum also has sought to appeal to voters identifying with his working-class heritage. Romney made a pitch yesterday with a quick detour to Daytona International Speedway in Florida. He veered off script, however, when asked by a reporter whether he follows the auto-racing circuit.
“Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans,” he replied, according to the Associated Press. “But I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.”
Time in Michigan
Romney, 64, has spent more time in Michigan than any of the candidates in recent years, Schostak said, adding that Santorum set up his organization in the past few weeks and has no state offices.
One unknown is how many Democrats and independent voters will cast ballots in Michigan’s open primary. Members of the United Auto Workers have said they plan to vote for Santorum or Representative Ron Paul of Texas to extend the primary fight and prevent Romney from winning the state.
Supporters and Surrogates
A Michigan loss would be humbling for Romney in part because he’s secured the endorsements and campaign networks of top Republicans in the state, from Governor Rick Snyder on down.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, Romney’s state campaign chairman, downplayed the fact that the state headquarters wasn’t opened until 10 days before the primary.
“We manage our resources carefully,” he said. “You spend money when it’s wise to spend money.”
The campaign also has dispatched a number of surrogates to hold events, including Tim Pawlenty, an ice-hockey-playing former governor of nearby Minnesota, as well as Romney’s wife, Ann, a Michigan native. Real estate mogul Donald Trump also campaigned for Romney via automated phone calls to Michigan voters in which he attacked Santorum for being a “career politician” who “doesn’t know about producing jobs.”
The most fertile areas for Santorum, 53, are the state’s western and northern sections, where the party is more dominated by Christian evangelicals and an anti-government culture. Yesterday Santorum visited the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula, where Romney hasn’t been in recent days.
The area is home to the state’s 1st Congressional District, where gun rights are important to many voters. The 30 delegates at stake are apportioned by congressional district.
Romney’s greatest strength is in the suburbs around Detroit, an area where he grew up that is home to much of the state’s wealth and many of its corporate executives.
Michigan also has a significant presence of Tea Party activists who often support less government and lower taxes. Santorum has been able to generate crowds by using local Tea Party groups, although Romney also has enjoyed warm welcomes at Tea Party gatherings during the past week.
The state’s Tea Party movement has been fueled in part by an economy hurt by the loss of manufacturing jobs. Conditions in the state are improving. It has seen unemployment decline from a peak of 14.1 percent in August 2009 to 9.3 percent in December, the latest month for which numbers are available. The national jobless rate was 8.3 percent in January.
Differing Candidate Appeals
Romney and Santorum held events within three miles (4.8 kilometers) of each other yesterday in Traverse City. The gatherings contrasted in style and organization.
Santorum rallied voters at a concert venue with an impassioned address on the separation of church and state.
Recalling a 1960 speech on the importance of keeping religion out of public life by former President John F. Kennedy, a fellow Catholic, Santorum said during an ABC News interview that such sentiment makes him want to “throw up.”
“Why? Because he said this, ’I believe in an America where the separation between church and state is absolute,’” Santorum said. “That is France, not America,” he said to applause of a crowd of more than 700 in Michigan.
Romney, speaking to several hundred voters at the Park Place hotel hours later, focused on the economy, assailing President Barack Obama for raising government debt and failing to restart the struggling economy.
“This is a president who’s out of ideas and he’s out of excuses and 2012 he’ll be out of office,” he said.
As Romney focuses on turn-out, a political action committee backing him, Restore Our Future, is helping on television. Spending in Michigan on commercials by Romney’s campaign and Restore Our Future has outpaced expenditures on behalf of Santorum by a ratio of about 3-to-2, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, a company that tracks advertising.
The Romney campaign and Restore Our Future spent $2.29 million to air ads 4,341 times on Michigan broadcast television stations through Feb. 23, CMAG reported. Santorum and the Red White and Blue Fund, a super-PAC supporting him, spent $1.49 million to air ads 3,721 times. The two super-PACs paid for 4,678 of the 8,062 ads, or 58 percent.
Terri Lynn Land, a former Michigan secretary of state who isn’t publicly backing a candidate, said she received in one day three mailed fliers attacking Santorum from Restore Our Future. Romney’s strongest backers won’t abandon him, she said.
“Romney raised $1.6 million in this state,” she said. “That’s a lot of people who wrote checks.”
Santorum had raised $42,365 in Michigan through January, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive politics in Washington.
Mitchell said the candidate with more money typically wins the ground game and the election. Money can buy automated phone calls, text messages to voters and mailings, he said. “You’ve got more resources to get people out to vote,” he said.
To contact the reporters on this story: John McCormick in Livonia, Michigan at firstname.lastname@example.org; Lisa Lerer in Traverse City, Michigan at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at firstname.lastname@example.org