Romney wades into friendly waters in western Mich.
But asked by a reporter on Monday night whether a third Michigan win this November would also have special significance, Romney's answer indicated how much bigger the stakes are this time.
"If I win in Michigan, then I become the president," he said. "And that would mean a lot to me personally."
It would be difficult to argue with that logic.
President Obama won Michigan in a 16-point blowout four years ago after the McCain campaign pulled its financial resources from the state in October, but Romney and his advisers believe they can be competitive this time around.
Watch Romney talk about the process to choose his running mate in the video to the left.
As evidence that victory here is indeed within reach, Michigan Republicans point to dramatic statewide gains made in the 2010 midterms, which handed the GOP the governorship, and they suggest that the blue-collar Reagan Democrats who turned out en masse for Obama have largely turned on him.
"There's clearly an affinity for his family that has served all the way from the '60s to a few years back, when his brother [Scott Romney] was a Michigan State Board of Trustees member," said Saul Anuzis, who chaired Romney's successful 2008 primary campaign here. "The political reality is Michigan is in play. Will it stay in play through November? Nobody knows."
Though Romney's personal ties to the hilly suburbs overlooking Detroit are indeed a key factor, his hopes of winning also depend heavily on his ability to drive up turnout in the conservative western part of the state.
The Grand Rapids-Holland metropolitan area is the state's second largest population center, behind Detroit, and while the city of Grand Rapids itself leans Democratic, the surrounding region is heavily Republican.
Western Michigan contains about 30 percent of the state's total population and is the only area that did not lose population in the year following the 2008 election.
Watch Romney talk to reporters on the campaign plane in the video to the left.
In his close defeat to Romney in the February primary, Rick Santorum outperformed the former Massachusetts governor in Grand Rapids and the surrounding counties. But Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga, who represents the Lake Michigan-hugging 2nd Congressional District, said that Republicans in the area were already united.
"Ottawa County, my home county, is really one of the main Republican vote generators, and you have to have a high turnout and a large margin to win the state," Huizenga told RCP. "As I'm out there, people are motivated, and whether they were a Newt guy or a Santorum person or anybody else, they are all now securely on board with Romney, and they want to see a change in the White House."
On Tuesday, Huizenga joined Romney and the candidate's wife, Ann, in Holland, as the presumptive nominee wrapped up his five-day bus tour at the scenic state park here overlooking Lake Macatawa.
"I know you're not out here just for me. I know you're not out here just for our party. I know you're here for the country," Romney said to the crowd gathered on the beach parking lot.
A Republican presidential candidate has not won the state since 1988, but Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer said he has expected a competitive race here all along. He noted that widespread approval of the $80 billion bailout of the automobile industry, which Romney opposed, will continue to be a hugely significant factor in the state -- even in this area, where the economy is less reliant on the automakers.
"Here in western Michigan, there are a lot of auto suppliers," Brewer said. "Several of these advanced battery plants that the president has championed are located in this county. The president has been here a couple of times talking about those plants and what they mean in terms of jobs here in Michigan."
The state's unemployment rate of 8.5 percent stands just above the national average, and it has declined significantly since peaking at 14.2 percent in August 2009.
But Michigan Republicans make the case that credit for the improved economic conditions should go not to Obama but to Gov. Rick Snyder, who assumed office in 2011 after running on a platform similar to Romney's, which touted his business experience and turnaround skills.
"When you've got someone who's got a vision and a plan and then the ability to act on that plan, like Gov. Snyder has, you can turn the state around," Huizenga asserted. "I think that same exact thing with Gov. Romney."
After Romney delivered his stump speech here on a warm Tuesday evening, he removed his shoes and walked toward the shoreline with Ann as a pack of journalists struggled to catch up.
He dipped his feet in the water and allowed the light waves to wash over the bottoms of his khakis -- one last theatrical moment to demonstrate his connection to the state.
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