Elections 2012: Mitt Romney Faces Unexpected Hurdles in Michigan

Mitt Romney has found himself in an unexpectedly difficult fight in Michigan, his native state and a place where his advisers had long assumed he could do well. He’s facing a tough challenge from Rick Santorum, who has excited the GOP base with strong anti-abortion rhetoric and appeals to blue-collar voters.

Rick Santorum's improbable polling lead in Michigan appears to be narrowing a week ahead of the state's Republican presidential primary. While pollsters differ on the rate of change, all now agree that the race between Santorum and Mitt Romney is close. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

This was supposed to be a state, at last, where Mitt Romney could coast. After all, he grew up here. His father, an automobile executive, had been the governor, says The New York Times.

And the last time there was a Republican presidential primary in Michigan, Mr. Romney won handily.

Yet, with less than a week until Michigan Republicans vote and with polling suggesting that Rick Santorum is mounting a serious challenge, Mr. Romney finds himself urgently pouring resources into his home state — unveiling gauzy television ads aimed at reminding residents of his family roots and rolling out endorsements from a virtual who’s who in Lansing: the governor, a former Senate majority leader, the attorney general, a former attorney general, and on and on.

According to The Huff Post, four new polls released since Sunday produced results ranging from a Santorum lead of four percentage points, found by both Rasmussen Reports and the Democratic Party-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling, to a two-point Romney edge, reported in a Mitchell Research and Communications poll.

All of the new surveys, including a fourth from We Ask America, used an automated, recorded voice, rather than live interviewers, to survey voters.

Two of the surveys — PPP and Mitchell Research — show his advantage contracting by 11 points.

The most recent, an ARG poll fielded Feb. 15 to 16, shows Santorum leading Romney by five points (37 to 32 percent) and indicates no significant change in Santorum’s margin from a previous ARG poll conducted earlier last week.

Despite a recent Santorum surge, most polls in Arizona continue to show Romney leading there, including a new CNN/ORC International poll released on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Romney has stepped his attacks on Santorum in recent days, reports The Huff Post. On Tuesday he argued that tea party voters should prefer him over the former Pennsylvania senator – a renewed focus on the fiscally conservative voters who identify with those groups.

“I think the tea party would find it very interesting that Rick Santorum voted to raise the debt ceiling five times without getting compensating reductions in spending,” Romney said, echoing the negative campaign ads his campaign and their wealthy allies are airing in the state.

Mitt Romney also said Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s administration has “fought against religion” and sought to substitute a “secular” agenda for one grounded in faith.

“Unfortunately, possibly because of the people the president hangs around with, and their agenda, their secular agenda – they have fought against religion,” Romney said.

The Obama campaign linked Romney’s remarks to recent comments by rival Rick Santorum, who has referred to Obama holding a “phony theology” only to say later that he wasn’t attacking Obama’s faith but the president’s environmental views.

“These ugly and misleading attacks have no place in the campaign and they provide a very clear contrast with what President Obama is talking about: how to restore economic security for the middle class and create jobs,” said Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman.

Mr Romney tried draw attention to a forthcoming tax reform plan, by saying that spending cuts can damage the economy.

“If you just cut — if all you’re thinking about is just cutting spending — why as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy, so you have to at the same time create pro-growth tax policies,” Romney said during a town hall meeting in Michigan.

The Feb. 28 Michigan primary and the same-day Arizona primary are important not just for the delegates they will allot but also for their impact on Republican voters elsewhere.

Romney has also shown confidence that he’ll win in Michigan. When asked in interviews earlier this week what would happened if he lost, Romney said, “That won’t happen.”

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