Romney: A Michigander or Michi-gamer?

Mitt Romney wants to be president, so he needs to win next week’s Michigan primary. A big part of the game plan for pulling that feat off involves reinforcing Romney’s ties to the state where he grew up, where his father served as governor, and where he launched his 2008 presidential run. Which is why a column in yesterday’s Boston Herald should be a giant red flag for Romney’s embattled campaign.

Yesterday, former Herald State House reporter Kimberly Atkins recounted a sit-down interview she did with Romney on Beacon Hill. To break the ice, Romney’s press secretary told the governor that, like him, Atkins was from Detroit. Romney responded by talking about driving in his father’s car down Grand Avenue — a street that doesn’t exist. He relayed a now-discredited story about his dad marching with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Romney also asked Atkins which neighborhood she was from. “I told him I was originally from the West Side Detroit neighborhood near the intersection of Wyoming and Fenkell Streets, but grew up on Oak Park,” she writes. “By watching his blank facial expression, I knew he had no idea what I was talking about.”

Romney’s cringe-inducing attempts at acting like a real live boy are well documented. But the weirdness that transpired between Atkins and Romney speaks to something deeper. Atkins tells Romney she grew up five miles away from his boyhood home, and he acts like she’s talking about the moon. Then, when political necessity calls, Romney wraps himself in Michigan’s mantle, calling himself a “son of Detroit,” and wistfully driving around the streets of his old hometown for the benefit of a campaign videographer riding shotgun in his truck. “I was born and raised here,” he told a campaign crowd last week. “I love this state. It seems right here. The trees are the right height. I like seeing the lakes.”

Atkins says Romney’s current native son act in Michigan looks about “as authentic as a Honda Accord with a Cadillac emblem glued to its hood,” and implores Romney to “stop pretending you’re Mr. Michigan. No one’s buying it, and the act will not help you win votes in the state’s upcoming primary — or anywhere else, for that matter. No one likes a phony.”

Right now, Romney is locked in a death match with Rick Santorum, a candidate with the exact opposite problem as Romney’s. Santorum needs to cover up his more, er, eccentric social beliefs, and focus on the blue-collar voters who would push him past Romney. But Santorum can’t resist wading into protracted, politically unproductive discussions about theology and human reproduction and man-ondog type things. Santorum is a culture warrior, and he won’t run from that fact. In Romney, he’s facing a man who will try desperately to become exactly what you want him to be. A week from today, we’ll know which was the wiser path.

                                                                                                                                                –PAUL MCMORROW


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