ALBION, Mich. — Mitt Romney, looking to stave off a potentially devastating loss in the state where he was born, focused his message on the economy Monday, telling crowds at various stops across the state that he is the candidate best equipped to get people back to work and put the nation's fiscal house back in order.
He also said he had recaptured momentum in the Republican presidential contest from Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania who erased Mr. Romney's long-standing lead here after winning three nomination contests this month.
"Michigan has been fun these last 10 days or so. We started off about 15 points down in the polls and now we're leading the polls. Thanks, you guys," the former Massachusetts governor told a crowd here, alluding to polls released over the weekend that showed him holding a slight edge in the state.
The confidence, though, belies the obvious concerns the Romney camp carries into Tuesday, when voters head to the polls in Arizona and Michigan, which is considered the more critical contest for Mr. Romney. His father, George, served as the state's governor in the 1960s and for most of the campaign it appeared the former governor's son was well on his way to carrying his home state — just as he did in 2008.
But that expectation shifted three weeks ago after Mr. Santorum emerged victorious in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, catapulting him ahead of Mr. Romney in Michigan.
Since then, the Romney camp has outspent its top rival in television ads and touted the support of some of the biggest political figures in Michigan, including Gov. Rick Snyder, who joined Mr. Romney at his final event Monday at a historic theater in the Detroit suburbs.
"Michigan is important to continue both momentum and the delegate march toward the nomination," said Saul Anuzis, former state GOP chairman and a Romney supporter. "Some may try and spin what a win is, but if you win the most delegates coming out of Michigan, you win."
With that as a backdrop, Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, on Monday barnstormed across the state, greeting crowds at an electrical factory in Rockford, at a maker of heavy-duty industrial wheels in Jackson County and at a theater in Royal Oak.
At each stop, Mr. Romney, with help from his wife, tried to strike a more personal note, sharing the story of how they met when she was 14 and he was 16. "She's been my sweetie ever since," he said.
Mr. Romney urged those in attendance to get behind him on Tuesday. He also took some of his standard swipes at what he sees as President Obama's failures on the economic and jobs fronts, while also trying to distance himself from Mr. Santorum by labeling him "creature of Washington."
"I want to make sure that tomorrow you take the first step to get us on a path toward a brighter future," Mr. Romney told about 300 gathered at Caster Concepts. "That is what this race is about. Will you take the first step that gets us a better future? I hope you do. Where we can have dramatic, fundamental change in Washington — sending programs back to the state, eliminating programs, balancing the budget, cutting the federal workforce. That is what I'm going to do."
Mr. Romney's urgent remarks were generally met with polite or lukewarm response, though the energy level spiked noticeably at the last stop of the day, when favorite son Kid Rock popped up on stage to perform "Born Free," the rocker that has become the Romney campaign's theme song.
Mr. Romney's supporters, though, insisted it's the former Massachusetts governor's electability and business acumen — not his ability to whip up a crowd — that makes him the best bet to lead the country.
"I would rather have someone who can run our country and run our business than have somebody who is a good talker on the stage," said Colleen Gibbs, a 50-year-old treasurer at Spring Arbor Township.
There were other good omens for Mr. Romney.
Donna Greenland, 57, said she was on the fence and came with her husband, Robert, 59, to the morning event at Byrne Electrical Specialists to "see if we can get the good vibe for him that you can't get from the TV."
Minutes after his remarks, she said Mr. Romney may have swayed her in his direction.
"He connected," Mrs. Greenland said.
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