EAST LANSING – Amid a sea of Michigan State University alumni tailgating outside Spartan Stadium on Saturday afternoon, a small tent near the venue went almost unnoticed. The tent contained six tables, a large television set and a line of signs supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president.
Close to 1:30 p.m., volunteers handed out “Mitt Romney for President” signs to a small crowd. Many held foam baseball mitts reading “Mitt ’08.”
The event staff asked everyone to line up against the row of signs and attempted to start the chant “M-I-T-T, Mitt’s the man for me.” It didn’t stick.
But when Romney rounded the corner, followed by a large entourage of event staff and cameramen, the crowd began applauding and cheering.
Romney is campaigning hard in Michigan. He’s made at least 17 stops in the state since April, according to The New York Times. He still trails former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in most polls of Michigan voters, but Romney’s numbers have been rising as Giuliani’s have fallen.
Someone handed Romney a Michigan State Spartans T-shirt, which he held up for the crowd before starting to shake hands.
A person in the crowd asked him his prediction for the game.
“One of the Michigan teams is going to win,” he said, smiling.
People swarmed around him, attempting to shake his hand or take a picture.
A Michigan State fan walked around the crowd yelling, “He’s a Spartan fan. All you Michigan fans back away.”
But Romney never made his loyalties clear. Someone near the back of the crowd kept yelling “Blue or Green?” Romney didn’t answer.
LSA senior Amy Drumm, chair of the University of Michigan chapter of Students for Mitt Romney, which helped organize the tailgate, said she was hoping the event would have been more of a joint tailgate for Michigan State and Michigan fans, but she said she was happy with the turnout anyway. About 15 University of Michigan students from Students for Mitt Romney and the College Republicans came to the tailgate.
Romney has strong ties to Michigan. He grew up in Bloomfield Hills. His father was governor of Michigan from 1963-69, and his brother is on the MSU Board of Trustees.
Romney, though, got his education outside the state. He has degrees from Brigham Young University and Harvard Business School.
Just like elsewhere on the campaign trail, Romney’s Mormon faith was an issue in East Lansing.
A student wearing a Michigan State T-shirt wandering past yelled out, “I prefer my president to only have one wife.”
The student was referring to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’s past support for plural marriage. The church banned such marriages in 1890. Mitt Romney is married to Ann Romney, who also grew up in Bloomfield Hills.
A cluster of students – some from Michigan State and some from the University of Michigan – milled near signs advertising $2 tickets for a raffle of a football signed by Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio and a basketball signed by the Michigan State basketball team. The proceeds benefited the Michigan State College Republicans. Most students wore T-shirts and stickers supporting Mitt Romney.
While the students waited for Romney, a plane flew overhead with a flag that read “Ron Paul for President ’08.” Paul, a Republican Texas congressman mounting a long-shot bid for the White House, drew a large crowd to the Diag last month.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a group of people appeared carrying Ron Paul signs and stickers. They stood in back of the crowd, holding the signs over their heads. A man in an Appalachian State sweatshirt with a Ron Paul sticker on his back attempted to engage the fringe of the crowd in conversation.
“You can’t silence freedom,” he said.
Romney worked his way through the mass of people before veering off to visit another tailgate.