SHELBY TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Mitt Romney's campaign is sending double messages about his native state of Michigan. "Plan on winning. Hope to win," Romney said on Tuesday after a town hall. But some of his advisers and allies are trying to play down expectations for the Feb. 28 primary, just in case.
"Mitt Romney is fighting like an underdog," Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette told the town hall audience. For at least the second day in a row, he predicted Romney would be "the comeback kid" when the election returns come in.
The general message from the campaign is that no state is a must-win, even Michigan. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said on a conference call that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's endorsement will help but won't make it a slam-dunk. "We're optimistic that with a lot of hard work and that endorsement, that he'll have the chance to win Michigan," McDonnell said. Schuette, on the same call, said Romney was "running a tough, gritty campaign. I think Michigan likes that. Mitt is scrappy."
Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told MSNBC's Chuck Todd on Tuesday that Romney in 2008 won all three states to which he's personally connected: Michigan, where he grew up and his dad was governor; Massachusetts, where he went to school, raised a family, and became governor; and Utah, where he ran the 2002 Winter Olympics.
This year, "Is any one of them a must-win for Romney? No," Fehrnstrom said. "I think the must-do for any candidate running for president is achieving 1,145 delegates. That's what's going to secure the nomination, and it's a long process." Fehrnstrom added that Romney currently has a 3-to-1 delegate lead over his closest rival.
Romney's town hall was a return in some ways to his "Earn It" approach in New Hampshire, which involved hordes of volunteers and up to three town halls a day, standing in front of the same "Cut The Spending" banner that was on display here. It was Romney who said that he wanted to start doing town halls again, said Jason McBride, who was the campaign's New Hampshire director and is now on the ground in Michigan. He said that after the CNN debate on Wednesday night in Arizona, the Romneys will be back in Michigan with multiple events a day. "They want to show they're not taking anything for granted here," McBride said.
The race has changed since the New Hampshire campaign, with the rise of Rick Santorum, a champion of socially conservative causes, and the Obama administration's controversial requirement -- now modified -- that Catholic institutions include free contraceptives in their insurance plans. One voter on Tuesday asked Romney, who is Mormon, what he would do to protect religious freedom.
"I can assure you, as someone who has understood very personally the significance of religious tolerance and religious freedom and the right to one's own conscience, I will make sure that we never again attack religious liberty in the United States of America," he said.
When a woman asked about Santorum's surge, Romney dismissed him as just another short-timer. "We had Donald Trump for a while, and then we had Herman Cain and we had Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. They have all been vetted pretty carefully. Rick Santorum is now just being seen for the first time in many homes, and his background and mine are very different," Romney said. Trump has endorsed Romney. Cain and Perry are backing Gingrich.