SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The fight for the Republican presidential nomination is settled firmly in Michigan this weekend, with only three days left before the primary there. Former Governor Mitt Romney appears to be closing the gap with Rick Santorum. Mr. Romney's on a bus tour across Michigan, hoping to win a little love - or at least the votes in the state where he grew up. NPR's Ari Shapiro is on the road with the Romney campaign.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: This trip has the feel of those early days campaigning back in New Hampshire before any votes were actually cast - the long bus rides, the snowy landscape, even the impromptu drop-ins at a restaurant.
MITT ROMNEY: How you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hey, Governor. Nice to see you. How are you?
ROMNEY: You got popcorn.
SHAPIRO: This spot in Mount Clemens, Michigan is aptly named The Mitt. The owner, Ken Leonard, says he chose the name for the shape of Michigan - the state looks roughly like a catcher's mitt. Then a blogger in town had an idea.
KEN LEONARD: Someone suggested that, hey, here's a good idea: Mitt Romney's going to be in town. He should stop at the new restaurant that's called The Mitt.
SHAPIRO: Leonard emailed the campaign, and a few days later, the big blue Romney bus pulled up outside.
ROMNEY: I know this is an exciting race for you guys. It's fun to be in the middle of this race. I'm planning on winning by the way.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
SHAPIRO: The owners gave him a T-shirt that says Mitt Happens. This kind of retail politicking has not been a big part of Romney's repertoire lately. Many of the states that have voted recently are just too big to shake everyone's hand. In fact, Romney started his Michigan day in Detroit, with a big speech in an even bigger venue.
ROMNEY: By the way, congratulations to the Lions on a great season, and to the next great season.
SHAPIRO: He spoke on the football field where the Detroit Lions play. The applause came from a crowd of 1,200 in a venue built for 65,000. His campaign billed this economic speech as a major policy rollout, but almost all the policies on his list had been revealed earlier in the race.
ROMNEY: Let's get a tax policy that encourages growth and investment and doesn't just penalize people for being successful.
SHAPIRO: Romney's last stop of the day was in Kalamazoo at Western Michigan University. He reminded supporters of his deep family roots in the state - deep as in deep underground.
ROMNEY: My dad is a very frugal man. And he checked all over for where the best deal was on a gravesite, and he found a place in Brighton. Because we didn't live in Brighton, it's like how did you pick Brighton, dad? Well, best price I could find in the whole state. So, if you're looking for the best deal on a gravesite, check Brighton. They've got a good spot. And you're near the former governor and the former first lady.
SHAPIRO: He seemed loose and comfortable. After the speech, he spent half an hour taking questions from the audience, which is almost unheard of for Romney.
PAT SIBODA: I know you really want the nomination in Michigan because since I came home on Monday, I have received nine phone calls.
SHAPIRO: Pat Siboda introduced herself as a mother and grandmother, then accused Romney of flip-flopping on abortion.
SIBODA: You know, you turned your back on your Mormon religion's pro-life stance, just like Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi did, betrayed their Catholic faith.
SHAPIRO: He said the pro-life community should be happy that he saw the error of his ways.
ROMNEY: We need people who recognize that pro-life is the way to go, and we're getting more and more people joining our cause as time goes on.
SHAPIRO: This is a sign of the challenges Romney still has to overcome here in his home state. Gary Gaybree is an attorney who supports Romney. He's not at all surprised that Romney faces a serious threat from rick Santorum.
GARY GAYBREE: In my previous life I was an elected official. I was a prosecutor up in Ione County. And in the Republican primary, there is a very vocal, a very active, a very conservative element that is even in my opinion somewhat to the right of the right.
SHAPIRO: Romney's bus tour continues today with three stops across Michigan. It was a recipe for success in New Hampshire six weeks ago. Now, he hopes these ingredients will help him cook up a similar victory here on Tuesday. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Lansing, Michigan.
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