Romney Fights to Avoid Home-state Embarrassment

Mitt RomneyMitt Romney is fighting to avoid an
embarrassing home-state loss in a high-stakes Michigan primary that will
not decide the Republican presidential contest but could scar the
former Massachusetts just a week before Super Tuesday.

Rival Rick Santorum is
calling upon an unusual coalition of tea party activists, religious
conservatives and Democrats to help topple Romney and reclaim the
momentum in the increasingly heated nomination battle.

a former Pennsylvania senator, confirmed on the eve of the election
that he had targeted Michigan Democrats with automated phone calls
encouraging them to vote against Romney.

supported the bailouts for his Wall Street billionaire buddies but
opposed the auto bailouts,” the phone call said. “That was a slap in the
face to every Michigan worker and we’re not going to let Romney get
away with it.”

Only declared Republicans may
vote in Tuesday’s GOP primary, but party rules allow voters to change
their affiliation temporarily on the spot. The potential involvement of
Democrats adds a new twist to a contest already expected to have
significant implications for Romney’s White House bid.

Newt Gingrich nor Ron Paul is actively competing in Michigan’s contest,
or in Arizona’s Tuesday primary, which Romney is expected to win
handily, in part because of the state’s Mormon population.

was born and raised in Michigan, where his father served as governor.
But Santorum’s rise in polls following a three-state sweep earlier in
the month has forced Romney to work hard in Michigan over the past week.
He’s hosted nearly a dozen public events as he and his allies have
spent more than $2 million on local television advertising.

will campaign Tuesday around Grand Rapids, a city set in a western
Michigan region home to many social conservatives and tea party
supporters. Romney is set to meet with voters 130 miles to the east in
suburban Detroit, an area with a larger collection of moderate
Republicans, a key segment of his support.

overwhelming advantages in Michigan, however, may not pay off in a
contest generally dominated by the Republican Party’s more conservative
flank. He trailed Santorum by a significant margin in polls as recently
as last week. In recent days, however, those polls have tightened,
leaving Tuesday’s election essentially a tossup.

predicted victory Monday night as a crowd gathered at the Royal Oak
Music Theatre waited to hear rocker-rapper Kid Rock perform.

“I’m going to win in Michigan and I’m going to win across the country,” Romney said.

Santorum, perhaps in a nod to the recent swing in the polls, was more cautious as he spoke to voters in Lansing.

“I think the fact that we are doing as well as we are is a pretty big deal in this state,” he said.

who was ending a three-state tour of Michigan on Monday, told
supporters that his goal is to “whittle away” at the total number of
delegates available. Speaking to supporters in Democrat-friendly
Detroit, the Texas congressman said, “Everybody knows I’m not a
conventional Republican.”

No matter the top
finisher, Romney and Santorum stand to split the 30 delegates at stake
because Michigan distributes delegates proportionally. By contrast,
Romney is favored to capture all 29 delegates in Arizona, which features
a winner-take-all system.

Washington state
holds its caucuses Saturday, with 40 delegates at stake. On Super
Tuesday, March 6, 10 primaries and caucuses take place, with 419

Romney has 123 delegates to 72 for
Santorum, 32 for Gingrich and 19 for Paul in the Associated Press count,
with 1,144 required to win the party nomination at the Republican
National Convention in Tampa, Fla.