Republicans urge Romney to make a strong play for battleground Michigan

Michigan Republicans say that Mitt Romney has a good chance to become the first GOP presidential candidate to capture the Wolverine State in 24 years.

But it remains to be seen whether Romney’s campaign will make a strong push in Michigan, which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) abandoned in the fall of 2008.

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Most Michigan polls show that President Obama has a large lead in the state, but a poll released on Wednesday gave Romney a 46-45 percent lead.

The poll, conducted by the Democratic-leaning EPIC-MRA, found that nine percent are undecided. It had a four-percentage point margin of error (600 active and likely voters sampled, June 2-5.)

Regardless, others polls give Obama a double-digit lead.

Democrats scoff at the suggestion that Romney will win Michigan, noting his position on the auto bailout and the fact that he narrowly won the GOP primary earlier this year in a state where his father was governor.

Former Michigan GOP senator Spencer Abraham has a different view, telling The Hill that Michigan is a jump ball.

“I think the data is consistent with where the state is right now. I think it’s close ... it’s obviously up for grabs. I think it will be a major battleground state because I think Romney’s decided to make it one,” the former Energy secretary said.

In 2008, Obama defeated McCain by 16 percentage points. That came after the Arizona senator gave up on the state in early October.

“Unlike McCain, where they left the state fairly early, I have every reason to think that Mitt Romney’s campaign is going to fight it out in Michigan right to Election Day and I think that makes a big difference,” Abraham said.

Former Michigan GOP lawmaker Rep. Vern Ehlers believes that Romney has a good chance of winning the state’s 16 electoral votes in November.

“When push comes to shove and people get in the voting booth, unless they have very strong party loyalties, are going to go with Romney,” Ehlers said.

Still, Romney has challenges to overcome in his native state.

Obama has repeatedly touted his auto rescue plan that has been credited as saving the auto industry in the state. Romney criticized that plan, and has had to play defense on the issue.

Former Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak said that Romney’s remarks on the situation at the time will come back to haunt him.

“It seems like [Romney] went out of his way to say, ‘Let Detroit go bankrupt,’ and you think, ‘Why would he say that?’

“Why would you wish ill will on a state and what I’m hearing from people is when they hear Romney speak out, it’s like he’s almost rooting for the economy to fail to help him electorally. Let’s not be rooting against America. That’s what people are seeing, so I really do think President Obama will be OK because people don’t like rooting against the country,” the nine-term ex-lawmaker said.

Abraham disputed Stupak’s claims, pointing to results in the EPIC-MRA poll that show voters only flipping one percentage point when factoring in Romney’s position on the auto bailout.

The result “very significantly undermines one of the main arguments that the Democrats in Michigan have been making for why they are going to win the state. This poll would seem to suggest that that argument is not going to be that strong and the voters are willing to accept that Romney viewed it the way he did,” Abraham contended.

Ehlers warned of other factors the presidential candidate should worry may resurface.

Some in Michigan have not appreciated that the former Massachusetts governor’s attempt to cite his Wolverine state roots as a sign that he has their best interests in mind, according to Ehlers.

“I think there are other things he has to worry about,” Ehlers said, adding that assuming that people will vote for Romney because of his roots there is a mistake. 

Stupak said the Romney family name would help the Republican presidential hopeful in his quest for the Oval Office.

“People liked George Romney and I think people generally like Mitt Romney,” Stupak said.

Abraham said that Romney has less to worry about in Michigan than Obama does.

He pointed out that in the EPIC-MRC survey, respondents gave Obama a 58 percent unfavorable job rating, compared to a 41 percent favorable job rating.  

“This is a minus 17 percent and that’s a pretty high mountain to climb. Things can change but when people on the whole view you more negatively than positively and you’re the incumbent, that’s a big challenge ... one that gives Romney a real opportunity,” Abraham said.

Stupak said that the polls have been “all over the map,” and that the situation changes week-to-week.

“I think the difference here is going to be playing to the end and the auto industry. Because the auto industry continues to go and every time people talk about the auto industry, it’s with pride. And I think that’s going to be very, very hard for Romney to overcome,” Stupak said.

Even though Abraham believes Romney could win the presidency without Michigan, a victory in the traditionally blue state would clinch victory for the former governor.

“It’s fair to say that Romney can win without Michigan but I don’t think he can lose, if he has [Michigan],” Abraham said.

Independent political analysts agree that Obama has to win Michigan. In the close elections of 2000 and 2004, President George W. Bush lost Michigan by 5 and 3 points, respectively.