Politics

Santorum surging in Michigan as Romney touts his status as state's native son

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Mitt Romney won the Florida primary handily on Tuesday. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.)

Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts Governor, is working feverishly to convince Michigan voters that he is a native son and — most importantly for him, worthy of their votes.

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Romney is suddenly in a precarious position with national polls showing former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum surging nationally, and in Michigan. According to a RealClearPolitics.com average of polling in Michigan, Santorum enjoys a 9 percent lead over Romney. Just two weeks ago, Romney enjoyed a double-digit lead in Michigan.

Nationally, the numbers aren't as bad for Romney, but they took are trending in Santorum's direction. Two weeks ago, Romney enjoyed a nearly 12-point edge over his closest opponent at the time, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House. But as of today, according to RealClearPolitics.com, Santorum enjoys an average of a 3 point lead.

Michigan should be a good place for Romney to make his stand. In an op/ed published in the Detroit News this week, he opened by invoking his status as "a son of Detroit." His father was a popular governor in the state. Romney grew up there — something he's reminding voters of regularly.

But, with just a week before the election, the polls aren't moving in his direction. Steve Mitchell, president of Mitchell Research and Communication, said an overnight poll by his group gave Santorum a 9 percent edge, 34 percent to 25 percent, followed by Ron Paul at 11 percent and Gingrich at 5 percent.

"Santorum, as a result of the victories he had in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado on Feb. 7 really has turned the race around," Mitchell said.

The race is turning on evangelicals and tea party conservatives. In Michigan, six-in-10 Republicans say they're tea party supporters, which bodes ill for Michigan's "son of Detroit."

"Among these groups, (Santorum) has a 15 to 30 point lead," Mitchell said. "It's really the very conservative base of the Republican Party that's shifted over to Santorum."

The collapse of Gingrich has also provided help to Santorum.

Rick Pluta, a political reporter for Michigan Public Radio, said Republican leaders in Michigan really want a Romney candidacy, because they think his ties to the state and the popularity of his father could put the state in play in the general election for the first time since 1988.

"Now we're seeing all these numbers that indicate things may be going otherwise," Pluta said. "A big part of it is ... the lingering suspicions among conservatives that Mitt Romney just really, really isn't one of them."

Romney's also having trouble explaining his stance on the auto bailout. Though he was against it, he said what President Barack Obama's administration ended up doing is actually what he recommended — a controlled bankruptcy — but by another name.

Beyond the specific issues, though, Mitchell says Romney's problem is less about himself and more about Santorum's momentum.

"He'll try to turn it around...by saying he is a hometown boy. He was born and raised here," Mitchell said. "Yes, the Republicans do want him to be the candidate in the general because of that background...He's trying to reconnect now."