Ann Romney uttered a line yesterday that probably will be heard repeatedly in speeches she and her husband make on the presidential campaign trail.
“We’re Midwesterners at heart,” she told hundreds of supporters as Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, stood by her side in Frankenmuth, Michigan. “We both have parents that came with nothing in their pockets and made great lives here.”
The Romneys yesterday wrapped up a five-day, six-state bus tour that included stops in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan, evidence of their political importance. The first three of those Midwestern states have been hotly contested in recent presidential elections. Ohio, in particular, is prized, in part because it so often tracks the national vote.
A study by the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics website showed that, since 1964, the popular vote in Ohio has deviated just 1.3 percentage points from the national tally in presidential races. It also is the only state to pick the winner in each of those elections.
Michigan -- which Democratic presidential candidates have carried in every race since 1992 -- this year joined the other Midwestern states as a potential battleground, in part because of the Romney family ties to it.
Romney, 65, was born and raised in Michigan, where his father, George, served as a car company chief executive and then as popular three-term governor. Ann grew up near him, and they began dating in their teens. After high school, though, he mostly severed his Midwest ties and went on to become a governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007. He now owns homes in that state, New Hampshire and California.
Romney traveled east to west across Michigan on the final day of his bus tour.
“If Michigan gives me the win, I’ll be the next president of the United States,” he told supporters in the town of Holland, his last stop. After his remarks, he held hands with his wife and they walked to the beach to dip their feet in Lake Michigan’s cool water.
The tour gave Romney a chance to focus on challenges facing small communities, test drive potential vice presidential running mates and provide plenty of pictures for the media. They included shots of the candidate posing with cows, piloting a Mississippi River paddle-wheeler and making pie crust.
It was all part of an effort to boost the regular-guy credentials of a multimillionaire who helped found the Boston-based private equity firm Bain Capital LLC. As the tour progressed from New Hampshire and Pennsylvania into the Midwestern states, Romney also became more accustomed to speaking over the shouting voices of Democratic protesters gathered nearby.
As he traveled through the six states that each went for President Barack Obama in 2008, Romney kept his focus on the economy and argued he would do a better job of promoting a climate friendly to small business and entrepreneurs.
He also started to confront tricky campaign messaging regarding improving economies in states such as Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa.
“You’ve seen governors who have taken some bold action to make sure we’re not spending more than we take in,” he told a group of business leaders at one session. “It’s resulting in a big turnaround in those states, with higher employment levels than they have seen in the past.”
States as Models
Romney mentioned Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee -- all state’s with Republican governors -- adding that the federal government in Washington must do “what we are doing at the state level.”
Iowa and Wisconsin in particular among the Midwest battleground states have unemployment rates well below the national average of 8.2 percent. Iowa’s rate in May was 5.1 percent, while Wisconsin’s was 6.8 percent.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, introducing Romney in Frankenmuth, said his state’s recovery is being “slowed down by the mess in Washington.” He said Romney could move the nation forward because he “understands the real economy.”
Though most polls give Obama the advantage in Michigan, an EPIC-MRA survey of 600 likely voters in the state released on June 14 showed Romney ahead by a single percentage point. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus four percentage points.
Democrats say Romney will face an uphill race in the state, in part because he needs to explain why he would have let the auto industry go bankrupt -- a reference to his opposition to the federal bailout of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC.