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A Homestate's Skepticism

By Juliet Eilperin
While former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is counting on his home state of Michigan to deliver him a key primary win next week, he faces fierce competition from both the left and the right in the form of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

Some Republican moderates in Michigan who backed Romney's father, George, the state's governor in the 1960s, view his son's emphasis on conservative values with skepticism.

"I was an original Romney girl," said JoAnn VanTassel, who served as township supervisor of Lake Orion, Mich. and is backing McCain. "I knew both George and Lenore Romney. I don't think George would approve of the way he's campaigning. I think his mother would take him to the woodshed."

At the same, Huckabee is relying on western Michigan's considerable network of evangelical leaders to help bolster his showing there, even as he campaigns in South Carolina. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a McCain supporter whose district lies in the southwest part of the state, said some of his longtime supporters are moving toward Huckabee, an ordained minister.

"I've got some good supporters who have jumped on his bandwagon just in the last few weeks," Upton said. "But there's not that much time."

In some cases, this religious outreach has backfired. The associate pastor of the Beverly Reform Church in Wyoming, Mich., sent out an e-mail a few weeks ago to members of the evangelical congregation. Gayle Vanderzee, one of the church's parishioners and a McCain supporter, questioned why the pastor would endorse "a specific candidate."

"I know a number of people who received that message and were offended that he used his position" to conduct a political act. Those kinds of endorsements, she added, don't address public policy questions.

"It's strictly based on his Christian morals and values," she said. "They don't say anything about his stand on the issues."

Unlike Huckabee, who is devoting most of his time to wooing South Carolina voters, Romney is hustling to make an impression on Michigan Republicans before they head to the polls Tuesday. Just this week, his staff called organizers of the Berrien County Lincoln Day Dinner to see if he could attend the event Saturday night: he's now got it on his schedule.

Still, Upton warned, Romney should not count on his last name to win over Michiganders. His brother Scott Romney ran unsuccessfully for Michigan attorney general in 1998 (losing in a party caucus to a Republican with the politically catchy name of John Smietanka, who ended up losing in the general). And Scott Romney's ex-wife Ronna lost four years earlier when she ran in the GOP Senate primary. Spencer Abraham bested her and eventually wrested the seat from Democrat Bob Carr.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 10, 2008; 5:51 PM ET
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