Santorum to give speech in Romney's old backyard

AP News
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Posted: Feb 16, 2012 3:00 AM
Santorum to give speech in Romney's old backyard

Rick Santorum is stepping into Mitt Romney's old backyard to talk about the economy _ a direct challenge to the Republican front-runner on the topic Romney considers his own.

The former Pennsylvania senator is set Thursday to address the Detroit Economic Club, just 23 miles from where Romney went to high school. Now surging in national polls, Santorum is showing greater confidence in what should be safe territory for the longtime GOP front-runner.

Romney not only grew up in Michigan, he is the son of a former governor. And his family members have been deeply involved in state politics for decades.

Despite the inherent advantages for his rival, Santorum vowed earlier in the week to "plant our flag" in Michigan, which hosts a presidential primary Feb. 28. He begins to make good on that promise Thursday, even as Romney campaigns elsewhere in the state.

"I think the stakes for Santorum are enormous, especially with the background and depth Romney has here," said Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan GOP who isn't affiliated with either campaign. "If Santorum has any hope of winning here in two weeks, he's going to have to begin showing how he's going to connect with Michigan voters."

Romney is scheduled to speak to a suburban Detroit chamber of commerce at roughly the same time as Santorum's economic address, which would offer a deviation from the social issues he usually emphasizes.

Santorum, whose grandfather was a coal miner, is expected to draw on his blue-collar roots as he appeals to Republican voters in this working-class city. The appearance comes hours after his campaign released tax returns showing his average income exceeded $990,000 over three recent tax years.

Santorum sought to downplay Michigan expectations while talking to reporters earlier in the week, but he hopes to score a victory that could be a huge embarrassment for Romney. The former Massachusetts governor has struggled to persuade his party's most conservative segments to embrace him.

"We think we can plant our flag there and do well, and hopefully finish a good strong second," Santorum said of Michigan.

The visit coincides with a budding ad war. Santorum released a Michigan television ad the day before the speech that features a gun-toting Romney impersonator shooting mud at a cardboard cutout of Santorum. An announcer says Romney's "negative attack machine" is on "full throttle." He accuses Romney and groups that support him of "brutally attacking fellow Republicans."

Sensing a threat, Romney and his allies are running television ads across Michigan as well. And local Romney supporters will host a conference shortly before the speech on "Rick Santorum's unapologetic defense of big labor and big spending," according to the Romney campaign.

Santorum's plans Thursday will also take him to the same venue as Romney's wife, Ann. Santorum is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the Oakland County Lincoln Day Dinner, an event Ann Romney also plans to attend.

Santorum's confidence comes, in part, from a working-class message crafted in Pennsylvania.

"We think we can do well in Michigan. We think it works for us from the standpoint of the kind of state that I'm used to running in," he said earlier in the week. "Michigan and Pennsylvania have a lot of similarities."

Santorum often cites his "Made in America" proposals that would reduce corporate income taxes on manufacturing from 35 percent to zero, hoping to rebuild that segment of the economy. The proposal also increases the research and development tax credit from 14 percent to 20 percent, a move he says would add new jobs in high-tech industries.