Romney looks to put Michigan in play

Mitt Romney spent one of his final days before the Republican National Convention stumping in Michigan, a sign he’s hopeful he can put the state where he grew up in play this fall.

Recent polls show Romney trailing President Obama by five to six points in the state where Romney’s father served as governor in the 1960s, making it an uphill climb for him. Obama’s campaign has shown no signs of concern in the state — they haven’t spent a dime on television there yet. But Romney and his allies, sensing an opportunity, have combined to spend more than $10 million already in the Michigan.

“The state is competitive as much as Obama has let it be competitive,” said Ed Sarpolus, a non-partisan pollster in the state. “The president so far has viewed Michigan as much more safe than most of us in Michigan believe, and he's not invested the time, money and staff that he did in 2008. If Democrats had spent a lot of time here I doubt Mitt Romney would be here at all.”

Sarpolus said Romney’s current position in the polls there is almost identical to where President George W. Bush was in 2004. While Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) carried the state it was by a narrow 51-48 margin, and he had to invest heavily to win there. Sarpolus compared Obama’s treatment of the state to how Michael Dukakis approached it in 1988 — as a sure thing that he didn’t need to work to win. That was the last year a Republican presidential candidate won the state.

While the state has long leaned Democratic, it’s been closely divided in recent years, and has a high number of white, blue-collar voters who polls show are less than enamored with Obama. The GOP cleaned up there in 2010, picking up the governorship, two House seats and control of both state chambers of the state legislature.

But while Romney can claim favorite son status — as he did with a controversial joke about Obama’s birth certificate on Friday — his opposition to the auto bailout could hurt him badly in a state where even many Republicans supported the bill, which many give credit for saving the auto industry and the state’s fast-improving economy.

Obama still has the advantage in the state — but if Romney and his outside group allies continue to bombard them without a response things could get dicey there for the president.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) appears to be in a much safer position than Obama. While her job approval numbers aren’t perfect she’s facing a weak opponent, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who has made a number of missteps on the campaign trail.

During the primary, Hoekstra aired a controversial commercial attacking Stabenow that many decried as racist. He also landed in some hot water due to footage, first obtained by The Hill, of him questioning whether Obama was indeed born in the United States and calling for future presidents to have to prove their citizenship to the FBI and CIA.

Shortly after his primary win, he caused another minor stir when news broke that he supported repealing the 17th Amendment, which calls for the direct election of senators.

Polls show Stabenow up by double digits, and she has a huge cash advantage over him heading into the fall. Republican strategists admit that he’s a long shot to win, and have so far shown no signs of giving him any outside air support.

The state also has a few competitive House races. Freshman Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) is locked in a tough rematch with former state Rep. Gary McDowell (D) in a sprawling, slightly Republican-leaning rural district that includes the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan.

Freshman Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) also faces a potentially tough race against Democrat Steve Pestka, a social conservative and fiscal centrist who could give the libertarian-leaning Ron Paul supporter trouble. Democrats are also bullish about winning former Rep. Thad McCotter’s (R-Mich.) GOP-leaning seat because the Republicans nominated a hard-line Tea Partier, Kerry Bentivolio.

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