Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum campaigned across Michigan (BEESMI) yesterday in a final push ahead of the state’s primary election next week, a contest that could reshape the Republican presidential race.
During a campaign stop last night in Kalamazoo, Romney was forced to defend his credentials on abortion after a woman in the audience said he’d been inconsistent. In Lincoln Park, Santorum described his priorities, including eliminating regulations and simplifying corporate tax codes to a flat rate of 17.5 percent.
Polls show a close race in Michigan (BEESMI) between the two, while Romney leads in Arizona (BEESAZ), which will also hold a Feb. 28 primary. A Romney loss in Michigan, where he spent his boyhood and where his father, George Romney, served as governor and an automobile company chief executive, would be a blow to his candidacy.
The two contests will help determine who has the momentum heading into so-called Super Tuesday on March 6, when 11 states will hold contests where more than 400 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination are at stake.
During the Kalamazoo event, Romney responded to the abortion question by invoking former Republican President Ronald Reagan.
“Ronald Reagan was pro-choice before he became pro-life,” he said. “I’m a pro-life person. I’ll be a pro-life president.”
Romney had said he would protect abortion rights when running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in 1994.
He used the question as an opportunity to criticize Santorum for votes he cast as a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania that sent federal funding to Planned Parenthood and funded a family planning program for low-income women.
“I will not fund Planned Parenthood or Title X, and Senator Santorum voted for Planned Parenthood and Title X,” Romney said.
Romney shared fond memories of his father, including his legendary frugality as he explained why he was buried on the opposite side of the Detroit metropolitan area from where they lived.
“He checked all over for where the best deal was for a grave site,” Romney said.
In Lincoln Park, Santorum said Romney hasn’t been consistent on opposing federal bailouts.
“You may not like my positions on bailouts, but I’ve been consistent and principled unlike other people,” he said.
Santorum, noting that his own home is worth less than what he paid, also talked about a need to help housing prices and suggested a tax deduction for homes sold at a loss.
At an earlier stop, Santorum, 53, visited a Catholic church in Walled Lake, where more than 500 people ate fried-fish dinners served by children in the gymnasium. Santorum is Catholic and is trying to boost turnout among Michigan’s large Catholic population.
Earlier yesterday, Romney, 64, told Michigan business leaders at the Detroit Economic Club that he would revive the state’s economy and the nation’s as a whole by lowering taxes and lessening the role of the federal government.
Speaking to an audience of about 1,000 people on the field of a stadium that seats about 65,000 and where the Detroit Lions football team plays, Romney 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 overseas competitors.
In remarks at the stadium, Romney highlighted his love of American-made cars by saying he owns a Ford Mustang and a Chevrolet pickup, while his wife, Ann, drives “a couple of Cadillacs.”
Cadillacs retail for $36,000 to $74,000, according to Edmunds.com., an online auto market.
The comments about his family’s cars reignited media coverage that Romney is a rich man out of touch with most Americans. The Romneys own homes in Massachusetts, California and New Hampshire.
Romney was forced to defend a Feb. 1 comment on CNN that, as he offers proposals to help the middle class, he isn’t “very concerned about the very poor” because they have a “safety net” of government programs to aid them.
In January, Romney told voters that he likes “being able to fire people who provide services to me.” The comments sparked criticism, though he was referring to health-insurance providers, not employees.
Bet With Perry
And he also faced questions after saying he would make a $10,000 bet with then-presidential rival Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, to settle an issue dispute during a Dec. 10 nationally televised debate. Romney later said in a Fox News interview that he had offered “an outrageous number to answer an outrageous charge.”
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a co- founder of Boston-based private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC, estimated his wealth to be as much as $250 million on financial disclosure statements. He earned $21.6 million in 2010, mostly from investments, according to tax returns he released in late January.
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 available. The national unemployment rate in January was 8.3 percent.
Obama Campaign Response
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. (GM) and Chrysler Group LLC. Obama’s 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 inside the stadium was 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 Our Jobs’
“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 or 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, 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?”
UAW member Rachael Siemen, 41, 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 that 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 has outpaced comparable expenditures on behalf of Santorum by a ratio of about 3-to-2, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG.
The Romney campaign and the super-PAC Restore Our Future, which independently promotes his candidacy, 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 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.
Super-PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign activity, as long as they don’t coordinate with candidates.
To contact the reporters on this story: John McCormick in Kalamazoo, Michigan at firstname.lastname@example.org; Tim Higgins in Lincoln Park, Michigan at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at firstname.lastname@example.org