FRANKENMUTH, Mich.—"Let's hear some oom-pah-pah!" a speaker ordered, minutes before Mitt Romney took the stage here at his first stop on the final day of his five-day bus tour of battleground states.
A polka band featuring dueling accordion players immediately cued up a fast version of the "Chicken Dance," leading some in the crowd of several hundred people waiting to flap their arms like birds. But even though it was just 10 a.m., it was already 86 degrees outside, and some folks didn't look very enthused about dancing like a chicken, much less a hot chicken.
"Pump it! Pump it!" ordered Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, in charge of revving up the crowd ahead of Romney's arrival. "Let's see it!"
And so began Romney's day in Little Bavaria, a tiny German enclave in northern Michigan. The Republican nominee took the stage against the backdrop of the Bavarian Inn, a tourist hotel that looked as though it was imported straight out of Deutschland or Epcot Center, depending on your point of view. Propped near the building's 115-foot steeple were signs advertising Romney's message of the day: "Putting Jobs First" and "Believe in America."
"What an honor it is to be here," Romney said. But he said he was a little embarrassed by a photo he had seen of himself in the local paper. The picture, he explained, was of him at just 17 years old, visiting a local restaurant with his father, George, who was the state's governor at the time. The photo, Romney confessed, "was kind of embarrassing."
"Someone was telling something very funny. My dad was laughing uproariously, but I was really… I'd lost it," Romney said. "I was completely guffawing in this picture."
He told the audience that he remembered traveling through Frankenmuth with his father. "The wonderful chicken," he observed. "You have a lot of chicken here in Frankenmuth. Chicken and, you know, noodles. This is good German food right here."
Romney's bus tour over the last five days has largely been an effort to highlight the country's economic struggles as a way of casting doubt on President Obama's leadership. But Romney's exchange with voters this morning highlighted another goal of the trip: To loosen him up on the stump as he tries to personally connect with voters.
Romney's father was a beloved governor in Michigan—something that never goes unmentioned at Romney stops here. But it's still unknown if voters here value the son as much as the father.
Romney won the GOP primary in Michigan by just 3 percentage points over Rick Santorum. And recent polls show him in a tight race here with President Obama heading into November.
Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane Tuesday, Romney seemed cautious about his chances in the state.
"Do I think I have a chance of winning? Who knows in these early stages, but I think Michigan is a state we can win," Romney said. He told reporters if he wins in Michigan, he believes he'll win the presidency.
On stage in Frankenmuth this morning, Romney was quick to appeal to voters' sense of state pride.
"I grew up in Michigan, as you know, born and raised," he said. "And if I'm lucky enough to become president, I'll be the first president in American history to have been born in Michigan."