Romney seeking votes in Michigan

January 14, 2008 7:00:43 PM PST
Alternately promising and pleading, Republican Mitt Romney on Monday asked Michigan residents to vote for him in a primary election that could either rejuvenate or mortally wound his presidential campaign.

Before a cheering crowd of high schoolers and later the more somber members of the Detroit Economic Club, the Michigan-born Romney pledged to take better care of the state as president than rivals Mike Huckabee and John McCain.

Romney finished second to each in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, respectively, and a hometown loss to either on Tuesday would be hard to overcome as the nominating contest moves to South Carolina and Florida, both locations where the former Massachusetts governor trails in the polls.

"The pessimists are wrong," Romney told the Economic Club, leveling a subtle jab at McCain, who has said that some lost auto industry jobs will never be recovered. "The auto industry and all its jobs do not have to be lost. And I am one man who will work to transform the industry and save those jobs."

Complicating Romney's task is that Democrats and undeclared voters can participate in Michigan's Republican primary. That could boost a candidate like McCain who has proved attractive to non-Republicans. The Arizona senator was tied with Romney in one weekend poll but trailed him by 5 percentage points in another.

Huckabee, a one-time Southern Baptist minister and the former governor of Arkansas, was third in both surveys but hoped to stage a surprise finish with support from Christian conservatives.

Romney and his top advisers insist he will carry on regardless of Tuesday's outcome, noting that he won the Wyoming caucuses and has accumulated more votes than any of the GOP candidates in the early contests.

"I'm confident I'm going to do real well with Republicans. I'm confident I'll do just fine and hopefully real well with independents. I don't know how Democrats will vote in a Republican primary. That's not something I'm terribly used to," he said after eyeing glittering new cars at the North American International Auto Show.

"I believe that overall, I'm going to win, and one thing's for sure: I'm not going to stop at the end of Michigan. Win or lose, I'm going on to South Carolina and Nevada and all the way through February 5, and hopefully beyond," Romney said.

His schedule calls for a full day of activities in South Carolina on Wednesday, but his plans after that haven't been released. Romney is aiming for a win in Nevada, whose caucuses also are on Jan. 19, when South Carolina Republicans vote.

To bolster his chances in Michigan, Romney has largely avoided the critical advertising he aired against Huckabee in Iowa and McCain in New Hampshire. Instead, he has relied on a homey commercial showing him with his father, George Romney, the former head of American Motors and a three-term governor of Michigan during the 1960s.

Romney, 60, also has said personal history and his background as a business consultant and venture capitalist give him the skills to help reverse the job loss that has given the state a nation-leading 7.4 percent unemployment rate.

"If I am elected as president of this great land, I will not need a compass to tell me where Michigan is, and I won't need to be briefed on what's going on in the auto industry or what's happening to Michigan's economy," he said to cheers at the Economic Club.

"You see, I've got Michigan in my DNA, I've got it in my heart and I've got cars in my bloodstream."

Speaking of the auto industry, he said, "I'm not open to a bailout, but I am open to a workout. Washington should not be a benefactor, but it can and must be a partner."

Romney called on the federal government to stop unfunded mandates like non-negotiated increases in fuel-economy standards, and instead sought greater investment in research and technology and work force training programs.

He also said he would convene an auto industry summit within his first 100 days, and warned that the ills affecting auto manufacturing could spread to the aerospace, pharmaceutical and other industries if unaddressed.

"I hear people from time to time say, `Well, that's Michigan's problem,' or they say something like, `Well, it's the car companies, they just brought it on themselves.' But that's where they're wrong. What Michigan is feeling will be felt by the entire nation, unless we win the economic battle here," he said.

Earlier in the day, Romney assumed the mantle of motivational speaker as he addressed roughly 3,000 students, teachers and parents at Grand Blanc High School.

Romney described life as similar to the TV game show "Let's Make a Deal," although he said it is possible to know what's behind the curtain on some of the most difficult choices that will confront them.

Completing high school, he said, will result in an extra $1 million in earnings over their career. Getting married before having children, as he also tells adult audiences, will have similar positive results.

"There's a great plus to having a mom and dad associated with the development and nurturement of a child," he told the crowd.

While few in the audience were eligible to vote Tuesday, 16-year-old Aaron Ducharme, said he planned to encourage his parents to support Romney.

"I really liked the Michigan part, about how he wants to bring the state back economically," Ducharme said.