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Michigan Primary Pits Mitt Romney's Head Against Rick Santorum's Heart

Michigan Primary 2012

First Posted: 02/28/12 01:48 PM ET Updated: 02/28/12 01:48 PM ET

DETROIT -- Mitt Romney certainly has a heart, and Rick Santorum a brain. But right now, neither is getting much attention.

As the Republican presidential race in Michigan comes down to the wire with the former Massachusetts governor and the former Pennsylvania senator neck and neck, Romney remains on message, and Santorum continues to be all over the place.

Romney stuck with his economic message Monday, as he has all campaign.

"The reason that I'm going to beat Barack Obama in Michigan in the fall is that this is going to be a contest about who can strengthen the economy," Romney told supporters in Royal Oak Monday night. "We'll look at his record -- and it's been a failure -- and we'll look at my record and the successes I've had in the private sector, the Olympics and in my state, and I'm going to be able to talk about the economy with credibility he doesn't have."

Romney made things a little more interesting than usual by appearing with musician Kid Rock, a supporter, producing the jarring image of the clean-cut Romney and the long-haired Kid Rock shaking hands after a performance of "Born Free," Romney's campaign anthem.

Santorum, meanwhile, refused to stop talking about the things that matter most to him, no matter how much they take him down rabbit trails that make sense to him, but inevitably produce headlines and news coverage that confuse or provoke casual observers. It's a high-risk wager by his campaign that he is connecting with enough of the GOP base in the primary, and will have time to win over independents later.

"What do you do to overcome the view that your very conservative views make you unelectable in the current political climate?" Santorum was asked by a moderator at a chamber of commerce breakfast in Livonia.

"We'll wait and see where the American public is on this," Santorum said. "We know where the media is. They'll take every comment every day and they'll just blow it up, try to make a big issue out of something that isn't. That's been happening to me all my life. I'm ready for it."

"I'll still stand for the things that made this country great. Hopefully Americans will look deep in their heart and ask this question: 'Do I believe in myself, my family, my community, to be able to build a great and just society, the way Americans still do? ... Or have we reached a point where things are just too complicated and things are just too difficult, and we need someone else to make decisions for them?"

"If you fall in the second camp, if the majority of Americans do, I think we've given up something great, something transformational," Santorum said.

At least one attendee at the breakfast, business consultant John Lankford, thought Santorum was spot on.

"I like the simplicity of his message and I like the fact that he speaks from inside of him," said Lankford, 61, who said he is supporting Santorum.

Santorum lost ground in the polls over the past week. He has been painted by the Romney campaign, and a super PAC supporting Romney, as a "creature of Washington" who helped foster a culture of big government and deficit spending during the presidency of George W. Bush.

But Romney has failed to decisively overtake Santorum. Romney leads Santorum in the Real Clear Politics poll average by less than two percentage points, 37.3 percent to 35.8 percent. So Tuesday's contest here is uncertain. Romney has a better organized campaign. Santorum did not even sign up a political director in the state, Joseph Cella, until after his wins in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on Feb. 7.

However, there's no doubt that Santorum is connecting with conservative Republicans in a way that Romney has not, and seems incapable of doing.

And in fact, a poll released just before midnight on Monday, by Public Policy Polling, showed momentum swinging back toward Santorum, who was up 38 percent to Romney's 37 percent.

However, PPP pointed out that "18 percent of the electorate has already cast its ballots [in early voting] and with those voters in the bank Romney has a 56-29 advantage," meaning Santorum will have to win election day voters "by a wide margin to erase the lead Romney has stored."

Republicans in Arizona will also vote Tuesday. But because that state will award all 29 of its delegates to whoever wins the popular vote, there was never much incentive for Santorum to compete hard there. Romney is expected to win the state.

In Michigan, 28 of 30 delegates will be awarded by congressional district. Candidates will earn two delegates for every congressional district in which they win the most votes. There are 14 districts, and the remaining two delegates will be awarded based on who wins the most votes statewide.

The Republican nominee will need 1,144 delegates to secure the nomination.

Romney and Santorum likely will be close in popular vote, and each will get a double-digit number of delegates. It's possible that one man could win the statewide popular vote while losing the delegate contest.

The Arizona delegate yield will help Romney. Nonetheless, he will only be moving from 123 delegates to roughly 170 delegates or so, while Santorum will edge up from 72 by whatever amount he wins.

The Santorum campaign was already claiming a victory on Monday: "No matter what the results are, we've won. This is Romney's home state," Santorum adviser John Brabender told CNN.

That prompted Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul to retort: "You don't win by losing."

But the definition of a win will be the subject of debate Tuesday, given Romney's continued difficulty in convincing his own party that he is the best standard-bearer.

And so the lengthy, bitter primary will muddle on to Super Tuesday on March 6, when 11 states will vote and 419 delegates will be up for grabs. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will be looking to reemerge as a factor in the race on that day as well, having skipped the contests in Arizona and Michigan to focus on his adopted home state of Georgia and other Southern contests that day in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

"You're going to have to ask yourselves, and ask your neighbors, and people across Michigan and across the nation are going to have to say, 'What do we want in our next president?' We know what we have now: A guy who's an eloquent speaker who made a lot of promises he hasn't been able to keep," Romney said in Royal Oak.

"What do you want in the next president?" he repeated.

"You!" an audience member shouted.

"Well thank you," Romney said. "I believe you want someone who understands how to get the economy working."

"To get that spot of course, I've first got to be our nominee," he said with a chuckle.