The race for Michigan couldn't be tighter.
A series of recent polls in the state show Rick Santorum with a narrow lead over Mitt Romney, who grew up in the state and whose father served as governor.
It's those roots that Romney tried to play up in a television ad running in the state starting this week in which he recalls his childhood: "Michigan's been my home, and this is personal," Romney says in the spot.
And it's also a theme he wove through his speech last night at what his campaign called a "welcome home rally" in Grand Rapids.
"I'm just delighted to be back in Michigan to see some old friends," Romney said, noting that he recognized several faces in the crowd from his high school years. "There are a lot of high-schoolers here. I'm just - this really does bring back memories."
But Romney last lived in the state more than four decades ago and polls indicate that most Michigan Republicans do not consider him one of them.
As the native son candidate attempts to drive home his message to voters, he's going to have more than a little help from his friends.
First, there's Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder who plans to endorse Romney today. "Our next president must understand how markets work and know how to get our nation back on track," the state's GOP governor wrote in a Detroit News Op-Ed today. "Mitt Romney is the man for the job."
And the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, is chipping in significant funds to broadcast television ads in the state that take on Santorum. Those ads are also running in several Super Tuesday states.
Santorum hit back with his own anti-Romney ad yesterday though, so far, there is far less money behind it.
Over the next week Romney and Santorum will have the chance to offer their competing visions for Michigan and the country. Both candidates are in the state holding campaign events today and Santorum will deliver a speech tonight to the Detroit Economic Club. Romney is scheduled to address the same group later next week.
BOTTOM LINE: Romney has to find a way to move beyond the politics of the past (a.k.a. auto bailout bashing) and focus his attention instead on his vision for the future.
HIGH STAKES: ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd and George Stephanopoulos took a closer look at why Rick Santorum is up and Mitt Romney is down in Michigan on "Good Morning America" today. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/AnksmC
CAPITOL HILL NEGOTIATORS REACH A PAYROLL TAX DEAL. ABC's John Parkinson reports: The top two negotiators on the payroll tax credit announced early Thursday morning that they have reached a comprehensive, bipartisan deal after months of brinksmanship and tough negotiations. The top Republican and Democratic negotiators met behind closed doors late into the evening working out a final agreement. Finally, at about 12:40 a.m. Thursday morning, the duo emerged to break the news to reporters in the Capitol. "We have reached an agreement," Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the Republican chairman of the conference committee announced. "We're at [legislative] council drafting, and with all drafting there are obviously technical issues that come up, but we're confident that this can be concluded and so we're here together to announce that we do have an agreement and we're moving forward." "We have an agreement," Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the Democratic vice chair of the conference committee, echoed. "A couple of things have to be worked out, but they're minor and we expect that there will be a final, total result tomorrow." The leaders said they were still collecting signatures from the other 18 conferees participating in the conference, but the agreement enables the process to move forward. http://abcn.ws/xvIEcG
PRO-GINGRICH SUPER PAC HITS THE RADIO AIRWAVES. Winning Our Future, the super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich's candidacy, is going up with radio ads in several primary states. According to sources at the super PAC the total initial buy is $175,000. The theme: "don't let the establishment win." The ad never promotes Gingrich directly. Instead, it attacks Romney, warning listeners that if he wins the nomination he'll be another - gasp - Bob Dole or John McCain.
ROMNEY PLEDGES TO TAKE ON UNIONS. Mitt Romney boasted of his Michigan roots Wednesday evening, before vowing to do what he says President Obama did not: Stand up to union bosses, ABC's Emily Friedman notes. "I've taken on union bosses before, and I'm happy to take them on again, because I happen to believe that you can protect the interests of American taxpayers, and you can protect a great industry like automobiles without having to give in to the UAW, and I sure won't," said Romney. Romney's pledge to confront the union bosses came in a response to remarks made Tuesday by United Auto Workers President Bob King, who said that Romney was "the last person who should be talking about the recovery of the U.S. auto industry." … Romney pushed back against both King and Obama, whom, he quipped, "finally came around" to his idea of a managed bankruptcy for the auto companies. "It has been a campaign by the president to foster the interests of organized labor. One example, of course, [is] here in Michigan. The president finally came around to my own view that Detroit needed to go through managed bankruptcy, the auto companies needed to go through managed bankruptcy to shed their excess costs," said Romney, who spoke at an office furniture warehouse. "And it took him six months to get there, but he got to the same place that I had suggested. But he gave the companies to the UAW when he was finished with the process. That, again, is something which I think is consistent with the fact that he got a lot of money from organized labor and felt that he should give them a favor." http://abcn.ws/wd3RpI
SANTORUM CAMPAIGN ASKS FOR SECRET SERVICE. The Santorum campaign has formally requested Secret Service protection, a campaign aide confirmed to ABC News' Shushannah Walshe. The campaign lawyer sent the Department of Homeland Security a letter today, but the aide told ABC News the candidate was not immediately informed. Tuesday night in Boise, Idaho, Santorum said, "For the sake of my family … we have to consider [Secret Service protection], so we are in that discussion right now." The aide added that Santorum is resisting getting Secret Service protection and would prefer not to have it. Protocol for a candidate to receive protection is that the campaign must first make a formal request with the Department of Homeland Security - unless there is a specific threat - then the request goes to Senate leadership and the Senate Sergeant at Arms, who reviews the request and makes a decision whether to offer the protection or not. http://abcn.ws/y8dOkY
NOTED: SANTORUM RELEASES TAX RETURNS. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who frequently touts his humble roots as the grandson of a coal miner, earned an average of more than $900,000 each year between 2007 and 2010, according to the candidate's tax returns released on Wednesday. His adjusted gross income varied from about $659,000 in 2007 to more than $1.1 million in 2009. In 2010, Santorum earned $923,411. According to the IRS-1040 forms released by the Santorum campaign, the former Pennsylvania senator paid an effective tax rate of roughly 28.5 percent in 2010. That is a substantially higher rate than what Mitt Romney paid the same year, according to the former Massachusetts governor's tax returns, which his campaign released in January. In 2010, Romney made $21.7 million and paid nearly $3 million in taxes - an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent. Romney paid the lower rate because most of his earnings came from investments rather than wages. http://abcn.ws/wIbchR
ARIZONA PRIMARY PRIMER: REPUBLICANS PUSHED TO THE RIGHT? The Republican presidential candidates have recently gone silent on the lightning-rod issue of immigration, but that could change soon with the Arizona primary fast approaching, ABC's Matthew Jaffe reports. In the past few months, the GOP presidential hopefuls seemed to change their positions on immigration depending on the state in which they are campaigning. In Iowa, for example, Mitt Romney came out against the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some children of undocumented immigrants who attend college or serve in the military. But a few weeks later in Latino-heavy Florida, Romney signaled that he might support a modified version of the legislation that only recognized military service. But the candidates' tone on immigration could shift again once they hit Arizona, a state that in 2010 became the epicenter of the contentious immigration debate when Republican Gov. Jan Brewer enacted a strict new law that sent shock waves reverberating around the nation. The law ordered immigrants to carry their registration documents at all times and that police question them if there was reason to suspect they were in the country illegally. If the past is prologue, consider this: Earlier in the GOP primary, a handful of candidates traveled to Arizona to meet with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his outspoken stance against illegal immigrants. Arpaio eventually endorsed Rick Perry. Last month in South Carolina - a state with a similarly strict immigration law - Romney touted the endorsement of the law's author, Kris Kobach, who also helped write SB 1070 law in Arizona. In other words, expect the Republicans to once again veer to the right. http://abcn.ws/wqv0DT
FACT CHECK: OBAMA AND MANUFACTURING. President Obama is this week heralding the resurgence of American manufacturing as a leap toward an "economy built to last," and a sign that he deserves a second term, ABC's Devin Dwyer writes. "For the first time since 1990, American manufacturers are creating new jobs," Obama said at a Master Lock facility in Milwaukee on Tuesday. "That's good for the companies, but it's also good up and down the supply chain." Obama's claim - an apparent bright spot in a sea of still gloomy economic news - is corroborated by government statistics, which show an undeniable rebound for manufacturers during his term, both in terms of productivity and employment of American workers. … But as for whether it was Obama who made it happen - and whether it can be sustained - many economists and some business leaders remain circumspect. They say shifting business conditions and consumer demand abroad, coupled with a transition to more efficient practices and new technologies at home largely explain the trend. http://abcn.ws/yfGtc9
@kasie : WASHINGTON (AP) - Weekly unemployment applications drop to 348,000, lowest level in 4 years #2012
-Mitt Romney starts his day in Monroe, MI holding a roundtable on fiscal issues. Romney then heads to Farmington Hills where he'll be endorsed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
-Rick Santorum is in Detroit, MI where he'll address the Detroit Economic Club at Cobo Arena. In the evening, Santorum will deliver a speech at the Oakland County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in Novi, MI.
-Newt Gingrich is on the trail in Los Angeles, CA speaking at the Asian-American Leadership Forum. Gingrich will attend a Republican Jewish Luncheon in the afternoon in Beverly Hills, CA. Callista Gingrich is also campaigning in California with an event in Thousand Oaks.
-Ron Paul campaigns in North Dakota with a town hall meeting in Twin Falls. Then, Paul will travel to Washington State for rallies in Vancouver and Seattle.
-ABC's Josh Haskell (@HaskellBuzz)
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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