If former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wins the Michigan primary election Tuesday, it may be due in part to the support of Republicans in the state he grew up in while his father was governor in the 1960s.
Romney, who has been trailing former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the polls statewide this week, is seeking to rebound from three consecutive primary contest losses earlier this month to Santorum in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.
A new poll released Sunday by Public Policy Polling showed the Bloomfield Hills native climbing toward a tie with Santorum, but Romney has faced criticism this week for his failure to support the 2008 auto industry bailouts and with one week until Republican voters head to the polls, he is still in second.
Michigan, which has 30 delegates to the GOP convention, is regarded by many observers to be a fulcrum in a Republican nomination race that began with a close contest between the two candidates in the Iowa caucuses last month.
Vincent Hutchings, an assistant professor of political science, said if Romney loses Michigan, it could compromise his national support and boost Santorum as a viable Republican alternative.
Last week, Romney’s chances for winning the state got a boost when Republican Gov. Rick Snyder href=”/news/campaign-event-gov-snyder-formally-endorses-romney-1″>formally endorsed him at a campaign event in Farmington Hills, Mich.
LSA senior Brian Koziara, external vice chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said that similar to Snyder, the organization supports Romney for his vast understanding of the state’s economy and the automobile industry, as Romney’s father, George Romney, was also formerly president of American Motors.
“There’s a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, (Romney’s) not really a Michigander. He was only born here and spent his childhood here,’” Koziara said. “I think that he can identify with the auto industry, and he can identify with so many people here in the state.”
Much of the support from the College Republicans stems from the belief that Romney would ultimately be more likely to defeat President Barack Obama in November than Santorum, Koziara said.
He added that a majority of the organization’s familiarity with Romney stems from the members’ southeast Michigan roots, a region where the Romney family has been especially visible and popular because of their grasp on the auto industry.
“The people of Michigan know Mitt Romney better,” Koziara said. “He’s the native son, if you will, and I think a lot of people will be relying on that. At the end of the day, Romney is a known quantity here.”
Still, Hutchings said it’s “easy to overstate” the advantage Romney’s upbringing in the state might offer him in the polls. He added that Michigan voters will still fill out their ballots based on the issues, and the perception that Romney is not a true conservative will harm him more than the home state advantage will help him.
“He’s got name recognition, so people know him and they know in many instances that he’s from the state,” he said. “But unfortunately, what people know about him, or at least what they think they know, they don’t like.”
Last week, Romney authored an editorial in The Detroit News defending his preference for managed bankruptcy in the bailout and slamming Obama’s policies in aiding the auto industry. The piece earned considerable backlash from Democratic lawmakers statewide and in Congress, but Hutchings said it is unlikely that the position will hurt Romney much in the primary.
“People who are likely to vote against Romney aren’t necessarily doing so because of his stance on the bailout,” Hutchings said. “They’re doing it because of the perception that he’s not a true conservative.”
The latest Public Policy Polling survey of Michigan Republicans found that Romney is still trailing Santorum by 4 percent, with 37 percent of respondents supporting Santorum and 33 percent supporting Romney. That deficit is down from the 15-percent gap seen in last week’s Public Policy Polling survey.
In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, said Romney’s strategy in Michigan has focused less on attacking the competition than he has in other states.
“(Romney has) really increased his own positive image with the voters in Michigan,” Jensen said. “That’s different than what he did in Florida, where he really gained a lot of momentum by just totally attacking the heck out of Newt Gingrich.”
In 2008, Romney defeated Arizona Sen. John McCain in the Michigan Republican primary election by a vote of 39 percent to 30 percent. Romney earned 30 percent of the student vote, but finished second to McCain among voters in 15 precincts near campus.
In preparation for the upcoming primary, the city has issued about 2,000 absentee ballots, City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry said.
Beaudry said she expected turnout for the primaries this year to be “low to moderate,” based on her expectation that most Ann Arbor residents will vote Democrat or choose not to vote in primary elections at all.
“You just see less people vote in the primaries,” she said. “More people are interested in the final election. That’s when we’ll see the huge turnout both in person and in absentee ballot requests.”
In a separate conference call yesterday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette discussed their support for Romney. McDonnell arrived in Michigan last night to campaign on Romney’s behalf.
Though Romney’s campaign is quickly gaining momentum, the primary will not be easily won, Schuette said.
“(Romney) is running a tough, nitty-gritty campaign, and I think Michigan likes that,” Schuette said.
Romney has shown he is capable of handling financial issues, McDonnell said. He added that Romney’s ability to balance the budget without raising taxes while serving as governor of Massachusetts is an indicator of his potential for success.
McDonnell announced his endorsement of Romney on Jan. 20, the day before the South Carolina primary.
McDonnell said Romney’s experience working in the private sector will serve as a great advantage in dealing with national fiscal issues, emphasizing the 100,000 jobs Romney created while working with other business leaders during his time at Bain Capital, a private investment firm.
He also said family values are important for Republican voters in Michigan, which Romney effectively demonstrates.
“(Romney) is concerned about kitchen table, bread and butter issues, and that has overwhelmingly been (his) focus,” McDonnell said.
Schuette said Romney’s recent surge will continue to help him as the primary approaches.
“(Romney) is scrappy — he’s sharp on all the issues, and I like his position. He’s going to be the comeback kid,” Schuette said.