Candidates Hit Ground For Contests In Mich., Ariz.

Host Audie Cornish talks with Don Gonyea about the week ahead in politics, including the contests in Michigan and Arizona.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

The march toward the Republican presidential nomination stomps through western Michigan this Presidents' Day, just a week to go before that state's primary, and it's basically a two-man race between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Last week, the focus was in the southeast, around Detroit, the more liberal part of the state. Now, to the shores of Lake Michigan, where the electorate is more conservative. And NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea is there. Don, start by telling us where are you exactly and what's going on there.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: I am just outside a ballroom at the Amway Grand Hotel. This is in downtown Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids of course is President Gerald Ford country. His museum is right across the river. And Rick Santorum just delivered a relatively short speech. This wasn't a rally. This is a Republican Party dinner, so he delivered a speech. This was his one scheduled event of the day. But late yesterday they added two other events just to show how important this part of this state is to him.

He was at Hope College earlier, that's a Christian college in Holland, Michigan. And he was at a hotel in Muskegon, which is in the far western side of the state right on Lake Michigan. But listen to Rick Santorum's tone. He has really been taking a hard line, focusing on President Obama and his policies and the theme that the president is taking people's freedoms away in all sorts of ways. Here's one example, he's talking about climate change.

RICK SANTORUM: We need someone who has a record, who have been out there consistently opposing this supposed climate science of man-made global warming, which as we all now have studied it, turns out wasn't climate science at all. It was political science is what...

GONYEA: So you can tell that the crowd loved that line. You can tell that Santorum is having fun with it. But again, his point is that the president's policies are killing the economy and costing the people jobs and their freedoms.

CORNISH: And of course, Rick Santorum really enjoying some front-runner energy there, and polls are starting to show him ahead of Mitt Romney. How is the Romney campaign responding to this?

GONYEA: The Romney campaign initially was a little bit unusual. In the past, when Newt Gingrich has given them fits in this primary or that, they've gone relentlessly negative on Newt Gingrich. This time, Mitt Romney has gone positive. They realized that they needed to build up his own biography a little more to remind people of his deep ties to Michigan. Of course, his father was governor, he was born here. So they've been running very positive ads that seem to have helped him in the polls. The gap in a PPP poll that was quite large in favor of Santorum has narrowed. So that's what the Romney campaign has been doing. They have also been trying to squeeze in as many events here as possible. There's another one tomorrow that they've just added to the schedule today.

CORNISH: And in the minute we have left, what is going on with Newt Gingrich?

GONYEA: Newt Gingrich is not here. Newt Gingrich doesn't have any money. He has really decided he can't compete in Michigan. I don't think it overstates it too much to say that he's basically got one guy sending out emails on his behalf. But here's what Gingrich has going. He's interested in seeing Mitt Romney stumble, no matter what. If that's good for Rick Santorum, that's OK for Gingrich because it means that he'll get another shot down the line, he thinks, at taking on Santorum on Super Tuesday in Georgia, in some of those Southern states. So that's his strategy right now.

CORNISH: NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thanks so much, Don.

GONYEA: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

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