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Romney Family Legacy Lost On Younger Mich. Voters

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Romney Family Legacy Lost On Younger Mich. Voters

Elections

Romney Family Legacy Lost On Younger Mich. Voters

Romney Family Legacy Lost On Younger Mich. Voters

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/146965242/146969105" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney is campaigning in Michigan, where he was born. Romney's father was beloved — both as president of a car company, and as Michigan's governor. But that was decades ago, and a new generation feels less devoted to the Romney name.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. One of Mitt Romney's ads in the state of Michigan shows his childhood photos. The ad also shows Romney driving around the state where he grew up, and blaming President Obama for making its problems worse.

MONTAGNE: Romney is the hometown guy - the son of a former governor, and the winner of the Michigan primary in 2008. But just now, he trails Rick Santorum in polling before this month's primary.

INSKEEP: Both men hold campaign events in the Detroit area today. Yesterday, NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke with voters in western Michigan.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The day after Valentine's, love is blooming in this Grand Rapids parking lot. Retiree Mary Scholten and her husband are waiting outside of an office furniture company, to see Mitt Romney. If she gets a quiet moment with him after the rally, she knows exactly what she'll say.

MARY SCHOLTEN: I'm going to thank him for my Valentine present. See, my husband's taking me because it's Val -

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARY SCHOLTEN: That's what I asked for, for Valentine's Day.

SHAPIRO: Such a romantic.

IRVIN SCHOLTEN: Oh, yeah. It really...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Forget about this notion that Romney supporters are not crazy about their guy. Way up at the front of the line to get in, retiree George Smenge feels passionately.

GEORGE SMENGE: Because I love the man dearly, and I'll do my best to make him president.

SHAPIRO: The source of that adoration for Romney?

SMENGE: Well, in 1962, I met his dad in Holland, Michigan, when he came there for Tulip Time - as governor of Michigan. And I found him to be an absolutely beautiful guy.

SHAPIRO: And how much does the family legacy have to do with your support for Mitt Romney, the son?

SMENGE: Hundred percent.

SHAPIRO: Hundred percent?

SMENGE: Yes.

SHAPIRO: How widespread do you think that feeling is?

SMENGE: Not enough.

SHAPIRO: And that's Romney's Michigan problem. This is the state where he was born. His father was beloved - both as leader of a car company, and as Michigan's governor. But that was decades ago. Now, a new generation of Michiganders feels less devoted to the Romney name.

Rick Santorum now leads in polls here. At that rally in Grand Rapids, Romney tried to rekindle the old passion.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

MITT ROMNEY: This really does bring back memories. Any old girlfriends here?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: He reminisced about campaigning across the state with his parents, saying he had visited every county in Michigan. And he told a story about a time his father addressed the residents of a town called Mount Pleasant.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

ROMNEY: He said well, it sure is great being here, in Mount Clemens, on the Fourth of July.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

ROMNEY: And a big - you know - ooh from the audience. And my mother, you know, trying to help him said, George, it's Pleasant; it's Pleasant. He said, sure is pleasant here in Mount Clemens.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Apart from those hometown nods, Romney delivered a typical version of his campaign speech, with a special focus on labor.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

ROMNEY: I've taken on union bosses before. I'm happy to take them on again because...

SHAPIRO: He attacked unions in general, and the president of the United Auto Workers union specifically.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

ROMNEY: You know, I saw that Bob King said that I, you know, I don't care about the auto industry. Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. King. I care very deeply about the auto industry. I want to make sure we have good jobs not just for a few weeks but for many, many years. I want industry to come back in a big way.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

SHAPIRO: There was no mention of Rick Santorum; no acknowledgement that Romney's campaign is in overdrive behind the scenes. Romney talked a lot about President Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

ROMNEY: If he's president, he's going to be doing favors for the union bosses that got him elected. If I'm president, I'm going to make sure and do favors for the American worker, and the American public.

SHAPIRO: Fighting President Obama's record on the auto industry is tricky here. After government intervention, American car companies have roared back to full speed. Michigan's primary a week from Tuesday may give Romney a better sense of whether he'll get the opportunity to take that fight to the president at all.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Grand Rapids.

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