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Political Eyes Focus On Michigan


NPR's Don Gonyea joins us in the studio this morning. He spent all week in his home state of Michigan reporting on the campaign there. Don, thanks for being back with us.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It's a pleasure.

SIMON: As I already noted, Mitt Romney looks to improve his lot this week. How did he do it?

GONYEA: Well, the numbers show: last week, you and I sat here and I showed poll after poll with a Rick Santorum lead, sometimes a sizeable lead. Let's look at those same polls today. Rasmussen: Romney by 6; Mitchell: Romney by 3; Detroit Free Press: Santorum by 3; and NBC News: Romney by 2. So, it's very close. But here's what Romney has been doing. He has been hammering and hammering and hammering away at those hometown ties. His dad was governor. We've talked about that a lot. He was born in Detroit. He talks about cruising Woodward Avenue, drinking Vernors.

SIMON: I must say sounds like he'll be buried in Brighton, if I get your point.

GONYEA: Yeah, exactly. But sometimes that has kind of, it's kind of a mixed bag. Give a listen to Mitt Romney in Detroit downtown at the Economic Club yesterday.

MITT ROMNEY: I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs actually.

GONYEA: A couple of Cadillacs - they're American cars. Give him that. But a lot of people have gone through tough times in Michigan in the last decade, and a couple of Cadillacs...

SIMON: Yeah. He might have stopped at the pickup truck.

GONYEA: Exactly.

SIMON: And I have to ask you about the turnout. Which 1,200 people at that Economic Club speech, which is good but...

GONYEA: At Ford Field, where the Lions play.

SIMON: It was held in a venue that Lady Gaga would have some problems filling.

GONYEA: Sixty-five thousand seats, though I'm told Taylor Swift pulled in about 50,000 people there last night.

SIMON: All right. But she wasn't with Mr. Romney.

GONYEA: She was not with him.

SIMON: How does something like that happen, and what does it say about this campaign that has such an obviously effective organization?

GONYEA: The campaign does put it on the Economic Club of Detroit. They were originally going to be in a room that held three, four hundred people at Cobalt Hall, the convention center not too far away. Sold it out right away, needed a bigger venue. Ford Field was available. Now, I'll tell you, at first I thought it invites lots of obvious comparisons to President Obama speaking in a football stadium, even though this is an economic speech. I thought, you know, they're probably going to figure out how to configure it. They'll put it off. But you got there and 1,200 people - that's a good turnout, that's a good turnout for an economic speech. But as soon as you got there, you kind of thought, oh, I'll bet they're wishing they could be taking a lot of these seats down, only to find out they're bolted in place.

SIMON: What's Rick Santorum been running into this past week?

GONYEA: He has fallen in the polls a bit, and he has fallen just a little bit but mostly the narrowing is because of Romney coming up. But the big performance didn't help Santorum a whole lot. The focus on him has been very intense, so that's always hard when the spotlight first turns on you. But he has been trying to do a little bit of what Mitt Romney did, which is connect with Michigan voters. Give a listen.

RICK SANTORUM: It's a pleasure for me to be here and be in a place that is very similar to where I grew up. I grew up in Western Pennsylvania in a manufacturing town, which is obviously very much like the towns here in southeast Michigan, where we had to kind of neighborhoods and values and opportunities for everyone.

GONYEA: He's saying I came from a place just like this. I understand you. He promises to bring manufacturing back but he's been spending a lot of time talking about social issues and things like that, which may not be what people want to hear in this state.

SIMON: Don, where do you see the candidates centering their efforts over the next few days?

GONYEA: They will be bouncing all over the state. Romney has a number of events today, a bus tour. Mr. Santorum has a Tea Party rally today. He's trying to build that coalition of Tea Party support and Christian conservatives. Romney hoping to cut into the Tea Party support a little bit. And I went to a Tea Party rally with him and he actually was very well received there. I can tell you one thing though, there is a big football stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan that holds 103,000. I might suggest they stay far, far away from there.

SIMON: NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Thanks.

GONYEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.