Romney tries latest reinvention in Lansing

By Kyle Melinn

Last time we saw Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee was hightailing out of Novi, having narrowly escaped what would have been an embarrassing primary election beating at the hands of Rick (who?) Santorum.

Romney was smarting from the clubbing Santorum and President Barack Obama gave him him over his “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” opinion from The New York Times. A NBC News/Marist poll had him down 18 percentage points to Obama.

But as is the case in politics and just about everything, time heals everything. Romney was down only four points in Michigan as of last month. He’s bound and determined not to have his bailout blunder bite him in the butt six months from now.

And if there’s anybody in politics who has no shame in massaging his views, it’s Romney.

On Tuesday, he returned to test out a new theme. Instead of being Mitt Romney The Guy Who Didn’t Want The Government To Bail Out General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, he pitched himself as Mitt Romney The Guy Who Wants To Save Manufacturing/Middle Class Through Oft-Tried Republican Tax Cut/Less Regulation Philosophy.

Making Romney’s case was Gov. Rick Snyder, the guy who knows a thing or two about cutting business taxes, government spending and government regulations. The economy is improving in Michigan, finally, isn’t it?

(Michigan’s turnaround started as Jennifer Granholm was leaving office, but surely that $1.8 billion business tax cut and the dumping of dozens of state regulations couldn’t have hurt, right? . . . )

Romney’s trial balloon comes at the right time in the right place. We’re in early May. Romney sewed up the nomination a month ago. The General Election fun and festivities will start in earnest this summer.

Why not see if a narrative change works in Michigan? If the media and the public don’t buy it, he can try something else later.

Is there a better place to do it than Lansing, a manufacturing town forced to bury its Oldsmobile brand due in part to a poor economy?

Probably not. Lansing is in the middle of the state, an easy travel day for Detroit and Grand Rapids media. Also, Lansing is small enough that if he doesn’t have a chance to make it back, nobody will really notice.

Romney can talk about his East Lansing roots (which he did) while being big enough to admit that he doesn’t remember much about his time here (since he was so young).

If neither he nor his campaign can change the narrative here in Michigan, oh well. It’s not exactly lethal.

The truth is Romney can defeat Obama without Michigan. Real Clear Politics has Romney significantly ahead or at least marginally ahead in 21 states with a combined 170 electoral votes. Obama is at a projected 253 (with Michigan included) with 270 needed to win the presidency.

Romney needs to win Florida. He probably needs to win Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, Virginia and Arizona. He’d like to win his home state. Winning Michigan’s 16 electoral votes gives him more options to the White House.

But home state or no, Romney has an uphill battle here. Michigan hasn’t gone for a Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988.

It’s making some Republican faithful a bit nervous. Romney’s campaign let go of its Michigan-based staff, including his Michigan campaign director, shortly after the Feb. 28 primary. Its campaign office in Southeast Michigan was shut down, the campaign’s resources moved to other states during the dizzying primary season.

While the Michigan Republican Party and the Romney campaign insist that a new Romney presence is coming, nobody will say when. The party has six volunteer “victory centers” up and running with 20 more to be rolled out in the next couple of months.

The Romney campaign will re-open a Michigan office at some point, but who will staff it? Folks from Michigan? Or will the national campaign parachute in its own people under the reasoning that the Michigan team damn near blew it for Romney in February and can’t be trusted in the General?

And at what point will Romney’s presence be seen? As of last month, Obama had nine offices open and about 30 paid staff in Michigan alone. Obviously, offices don’t vote, but their staffers are out rounding up bunches of people who will.

These offices can’t be underestimated from a morale standpoint, either. Remember in 2008 when John McCain packed up and left in October? The roof caved in on Republican candidates from coast to coast.

Congressional seats, county commission seats and everything else in between seemed to be going blue back then. Republicans won everything in 2010 and can’t afford 2008 all over again.

Will Michigan give Romney a second chance? Either way, Lansing had the first chance to answer that question.