Romney, Santorum Battle For Michigan Votes

Along with Arizona, Michigan holds its Republican presidential primary Tuesday. If Rick Santorum beats native son Mitt Romney in Michigan, it could throw the race into turmoil.

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Tomorrow, Michigan and Arizona vote in Republican presidential primaries. For Mitt Romney, a defeat in Michigan would be especially hard to swallow since Romney is a native son of Michigan. Given those pressures, it may surprise you to learn that Romney spent much of Sunday off the campaign trail. NPR's Ari Shapiro tells us why.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: In a word, money. Mitt Romney and his campaign are spending cash faster than they can bring it in. That's not sustainable, especially when it looks like the nominating contest could stretch on for months. So yesterday, Romney spent a big chunk of the day in a state he had already won - Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: When this light rain passes we hope to go racing.

SHAPIRO: Romney wore a red Daytona 500 windbreaker and mingled with NASCAR fans who were waiting for the race to start. There's not much political gain for Romney in this trip. He did not appear on the national telecast on Fox or make a high-profile speech. In fact, he may have done some damage by drawing attention to his wealth once again.

Romney told an Associated Press reporter that while he does not follow NASCAR as closely as the most ardent fans, he has friends who are team owners. In fact, Romney was not in Florida for sport but for support - financial support from billionaire NASCAR owners who can help him refill the piggy bank. Romney's rival Rick Santorum did not come to Daytona, but he was watching.

RICK SANTORUM: We'll be very focused on the number 26 car, the Ford Fusion.

SHAPIRO: Santorum's campaign sponsored a car in the race. On NBC's "Meet the Press," he described the advice he gave the driver.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

SANTORUM: We need to, way in the back of the pack, just hang back there for as long as you can, let all the folks in front of you crash and burn, and then move up at the end and try to win the race.

SHAPIRO: That strategy has worked for Santorum, who seems to be the last man standing as an alternative to Romney. Today, Santorum will begin getting Secret Service protection, another sign that he has become a major factor in this race.

By the end of the day both candidates were in Michigan, converging in the northern town of Traverse City. Santorum held a rally at a nightclub near the airport. Undecided voter Sandra Batsikouras went to hear him.

SANDRA BATSIKOURAS: I thought he was great. He was really into the crowd and he answered questions and he was really concerned about what's going on in our country and in our state of Michigan.

SHAPIRO: From there she went to Romney's rally at a dome-shaped hotel ballroom.

MITT ROMNEY: Let's take the first step to a better future on Tuesday. All right, guys?

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: After Romney spoke, Batsikouras said she liked the speech, but even hearing both candidates in person was not enough to tip the scales in either direction.

BATSIKOURAS: I'll probably just have to go with my gut feeling. And I'm a Christian. I'll pray about it, and then I'll make my decision when it comes time to do that.

SHAPIRO: And as for that other race down in Daytona? It was postponed for rain. One more contest where we'll have to wait just a little longer to find out who wins.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Traverse City, Michigan.

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