FRANKENMUTH, Mich. - Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney reminisced about growing up in Michigan as he finished his six-state, "Every Town Counts" bus tour Tuesday with visits in scorching summer heat to three small towns.
Michigan, and the other states he visited, helped give President Barack Obama his 2008 victory. Now those states, Romney said as he blamed Obama for the country's ills, are the 2012 battleground that can propel the businessman and former Massachusetts governor to the White House.
"I've looked at what he's done, and I haven't heard anyone say, ' Thank goodness for Barack Obama's policies,' " Romney said in Frankenmuth.
Romney is bidding to be the first Michigan-born citizen to become president.
After a morning stop in Frankenmuth, the Romney tour went to DeWitt and Holland.
The Romney campaign wanted the tour to help him firm up his base, make sure Republicans who supported former Sen. Rick Santorum in the primary were embracing his candidacy and counteract Obama's advantage in the state's big cities with a direct appeal to rural and small -town voters.
The president, Romney said, "doesn't understand" the private economy because he never has worked in it. Obama's goal is to transform the country into an American version of European socialism, he said.
"I want to get the private sector thriving," Romney said in DeWitt.
Lansing political consultant John Truscott said it makes sense to concentrate on the small towns now and voter-rich suburbs - where the 2012 election is likely to be won - closer to the November election.
"These are towns that aren't used to seeing a presidential nominee, so you get them fired up," he said. "And you hit these places early because when it comes to crunch time, he's not going to have the time."
Before the rally in Frankenmuth, Romney met with 10 business people and Gov. Rick Snyder, whom Romney called "One Tough Geek" instead of the governor's real nickname (and Twitter handle) of One Tough Nerd. Romney wanted to hear their concerns about credit, health care reform and regulations.
"We keep providing good quality chicken," said Bill Zehnder, owner of the Bavarian Inn. "We're happy for all the guests we have, but there are times when we can handle a few more."
In DeWitt, Randy Hazard, 58, of Owosso said he was ready to cast his vote on the spot.
"He's the best hope we've got right now," said Hazard, who described himself as a libertarian Republican.
Romney kept his speech from the Sweetie-licious Bakery in DeWitt to about 15 minutes as the crowd, many of whom had waited for an hour, wilted in the afternoon heat.
Protesters shouted, "Four more years."
Romney turned toward the pro-Obama group and said: "You can stay on that side of the street. We're getting America workingon this side."
In Holland, where he spoke to a crowd of 1,500 in a gated -off area near the Lake Michigan shoreline, Romney was emphatic about his home state's importance: "Michigan, if you vote for me, if Michigan gives me a win, I'll be the next president of the United States."
During his speech, a plane circled overhead pulling a banner that read: "Let Detroit go bankrupt...Really Mitt?" - a reference to Romney's 2008 New York Times op-ed as Congress was considering a bailout for the automotive industry.
Steve Veele, 46, a quality control technician from Holland, said: "This is a Democratic state. I think it will be very close. "
After the rally, Romney and his wife, Ann Romney, walked down to the Lake Michigan beach to put their feet in the water.
Romney was scheduled to attend fund-raisers in Grand Rapids and Troy Friday.
)2012 Detroit Free Press
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