Presidential Race
2:27 pm
Tue February 21, 2012

In Michigan, Native Son Romney Plays Up Family Ties

Originally published on Tue February 21, 2012 7:04 pm

Everything about Tuesday's campaign event in southeast Michigan's Shelby Township highlighted that Mitt Romney is a local product running for president.

Songs from Motown and Bob Seger blared. A giant deep-blue Michigan state flag hung stage right. An aide passed out paczki (pronounced "punchkey"), jelly-filled Polish pastries that are a Fat Tuesday tradition in Michigan. Then came the candidate.

"Michigan has gone through a one-state recession and now a national recession," Romney told the audience. "I'm glad to see Michigan coming back — and it is coming back — but no thanks to this president. Everything he has done is making this economy harder to reboot."

Michigan holds its primary next week. Polls show a tight race between native son Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Romney is playing up his business experience and his personal ties to the state, where his father was a well-liked governor. Santorum's message is blue-collar conservatism aimed at Tea Party and evangelical voters. He made campaign stops on the other side of Michigan on Monday.

Social Issues Take Center Stage

In a state where the jobless rate is 9.3 percent, Romney kept the focus of his speech on the economy. He only briefly touched on his opposition to the federal bailout that helped General Motors and Chrysler three years ago. He argued again that the car companies could have survived by going through bankruptcy without the federal help.

Audience reaction seemed mixed on that point, but there were big cheers for Romney's criticism of White House economic policies. When it was the audience's turn to talk, their questions were just as likely to be about social issues, though, as the first one was — a query about what a President Romney would do "to protect our religious freedom."

Romney alluded to his own Mormon faith in an answer that was critical of the White House, accusing the president of fighting against religion.

"I can assure you, as someone who has personally understood the significance of religious tolerance, the right to one's own conscience ... we will never again attack religious liberty in the United States of America if I'm president."

Social issues were even more prominent at events Santorum held on the other side of the state Monday.

"It's great to be in west Michigan, where the family conservative values are the strongest of any place in the country," he told supporters.

During a stop at Hope College, a Christian school, Santorum talked at length about the conflict between President Obama and Catholic bishops over contraceptives and health care coverage. And he said the president is attacking the Catholic church.

"It is not just an assault on that church, but an assault on every religion in America," he said. "This happens in China, not America."

Taking Aim At Obama

Santorum also took brief jabs at Romney, calling him inconsistent on issues important to real conservatives. But mostly he went after President Obama on issue after issue, including global warming.

"We need someone who's been out there consistently opposing this supposed climate science of man-made global warming, which it turns out, as we've all studied it, it wasn't climate science ... it was political science," Santorum said.

Santorum recognizes that to win this state, he has to do very well outside of southeast Michigan, which is a Romney stronghold. And Santorum will need a big turnout from Christian conservatives and Tea Party members. At the same time, he has to continue introducing himself to voters.

On that front, he's won over Mark Moore in Muskegon. "To be honest, I was a Newt supporter," said the 47-year-old Moore. "The reason I didn't, at first, like Santorum is because I thought he was a quiet Mr. Nice Guy."

Now, Moore said, Santorum has convinced him otherwise.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to a state where Mitt Romney and his backers are spending a lot of money, Michigan. Polls show a tight race between Romney and Rick Santorum. The primary is one week from today. Romney is playing up his business experience and his personal ties to the state where his father was a well-liked governor. Santorum's message is about blue-collar conservatism aimed at Tea Party and evangelical voters.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has been following both candidates in the past 24 hours. He sent this report.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Everything about Mitt Romney's event in Southeast Michigan's Shelby Township today highlighted that he is a local product running for president.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE")

MARVIN GAYE: (Singing) Ooh, I bet you're wondering how I knew.

GONYEA: Songs from Motown and Bob Seger blared. A giant, deep blue state of Michigan flag hung stage right. An aide passed out jelly-filled Polish pastries, a Michigan Fat Tuesday tradition. Then came the candidate.

MITT ROMNEY: How was the Paczki this morning?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ROMNEY: Yeah. Yeah.

GONYEA: Paczki, of course, is the name of the pastry. During his speech, Romney kept the focus on the economy in a state with a jobless rate of 9.3 percent.

ROMNEY: Michigan has gone through a one-state recession, now a national recession. I'm glad to see Michigan is coming back. It is coming back, but it's with no thanks to this president. Almost everything he's done has made it harder for this economy to reboot.

GONYEA: He only briefly touched on his opposition to the federal bailout that helped GM and Chrysler three years ago. He argued again that the car companies could have survived by going through bankruptcy without the federal help. Audience reaction seemed mixed on that, but there were big cheers for his criticism of White House economic policies. During Q&A, though, the questions were just as likely to be about social issues, including the very first one.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: My question to you, Mitt, is, what will you do to secure our religious freedom?

GONYEA: Romney alluded to his own Mormon faith in an answer that was critical of the White House, accusing the president of fighting against religion.

ROMNEY: As someone who has understood very personally the significance of religious tolerance and religious freedom and the right to one's own conscience, I will make sure that we never again attack religious liberty in the United States of America if I'm president.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Social issues were even more prominent at events Rick Santorum held on the other side of the state yesterday.

RICK SANTORUM: It is great to be in West Michigan where the great family conservative values are the strongest of any place in the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Santorum talked at length about the ongoing conflict between President Obama and Catholic bishops over contraceptives and health care coverage. He said the president is attacking the Catholic Church. He was speaking at Hope College, a Christian school.

SANTORUM: It is not just an assault on that church. It is assault on all religion in America.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Then moments later...

SANTORUM: This happens in China, not America.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Santorum made brief jabs at Romney, calling him inconsistent on issues important to real conservatives. But mostly, he went after President Obama on issue after issue. Take this line about global warming.

SANTORUM: We need someone who has a record, who have been out there consistently opposing this supposed climate science of man-made global warming, which as we all now have studied it, turns out wasn't climate science at all. It was political science.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: Santorum recognizes that to win this state, he has to do very well outside of Southeast Michigan, which is a Romney stronghold. And he'll need big turnout from Christian conservatives and Tea Party members. But he's also still introducing himself to voters. In Muskegon, he won over 47-year-old Mark Moore.

MARK MOORE: To be honest with you, I was a Newt Gingrich supporter at first. And the only the reason I wasn't as much a Santorum supporter is because I thought that Santorum was just more of a quiet Mr. Nice Guy.

GONYEA: Moore said Santorum has now convinced him otherwise. There is another week of tough campaigning ahead in the state.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, in Shelby Township, Michigan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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