DETROIT - It's election eve in Michigan and no matter what happens Tuesday night, neither Rick Santorum nor Mitt Romney will come out of this primary looking all that great to the swing voters who will decide the race with President Obama in the fall.
First, there's Santorum who took his blue-collar, culture warrior message to a whole different level this weekend, calling President Obama a "snob" for encouraging college education and defending his statement that John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech on religion made him "almost throw up."
It's not clear if these comments are going to have any impact in the primary, but they will definitely be used against him in a general election especially what the former Pennsylvania senator told ABC's George Stephanopoulos Sunday on "This Week."
"I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," Santorum said. "The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country." http://abcn.ws/xhxSKZ
Meanwhile, Romney didn't do himself any favors this weekend either. Just a couple days recovered from his Ford Field flop, Romney once again opened himself up to charges of elite detachment while at the Daytona 500 in Florida.
Romney was asked whether he follows the sport.
"Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans," he said, according to the Associated Press. "But I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners." http://bit.ly/xQaKSz
Needless to say, the Democratic National Committee is having a field day with this one. It comes just days after Romney's remark that his wife owns "a couple of Cadillacs" and it's the latest in a long string of comments that make the multi-millionaire former business executive appear out of touch.
In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, Santorum, his main rival in the battle for Michigan, has been seeking to use that perception of Romney against him.
"I don't come from the elite," Santorum said on Saturday in Troy, Mich. at an event where Romney also spoke. "I worked my way to the success that I have and I'm proud of it. Elites come up with phony ideologies and phony ideas to rob you of your freedom." http://abcn.ws/wQzGcA
As for Michigan, the latest polling and intelligence suggests a nail biter of a finish, with Romney currently ahead by a couple of points.
In their final full day of campaigning before voters have their say tomorrow, the candidates will each make three stops with Romney starting near Grand Rapids and working his way to the Detroit metro area and Santorum taking the opposite path.
Santorum told voters this weekend that they have "an opportunity here in Michigan to shock the country." The consequences for Romney if his home state crowd does just that could not be bigger.
ABC's John Berman noted on "Good Morning America" today that Michigan could be the tipping point in the Republican nomination - one way or the other - for Mitt Romney. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/xoW9eR
WHAT MITT ROMNEY HAS ALREADY LOST. ABC News' Rick Klein notes that Mitt Romney can take another big step toward locking up the Republican presidential nomination with a win in Michigan, however, "what he can't claim back is the ability to excite and perhaps simply unify the party behind his bid - critical shortcomings that are likely to haunt his bid for the presidency for as long as it lasts."
"Romney's struggle to close the deal in Michigan, where his family has deep roots and where he cruised to victory four years ago, is underscoring longstanding concerns about his candidacy, in addition to creating new ones. … Besides having to answer questions about whether he's conservative enough, Romney now has to beat back suggestions that he can't connect with blue-collar voters whose support he'd need in the fall. Michigan, with its high unemployment and battered manufacturing base, is filled with the kind of voters whose support will determine the presidency in November. … The mood among the party faithful is anxious. One Republican governor is so concerned about damage being done to the candidates by themselves that he went so far as to say he's 'pushing for a floor fight' at the convention. 'I would love to see a good old-fashioned convention and a dark horse come out and do it in the fall,' Maine Gov. Paul LePage said while in Washington for a gathering of the National Governors Association. 'The candidates in this primary have beat themselves up so badly it would be nice to have a fresh face that we all could say, 'OK.' The country deserves better than having people stand up and keep criticizing each other.'" http://abcn.ws/yrItmP
"THIS WEEK" REPLAY: RICK SANTORUM. GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum told George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that watching John F. Kennedy's speech to the Baptist ministers in Houston in 1960 made him want to "throw up." "To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?" Santorum said. "That makes me throw up and it should make every American who is seen from the president, someone who is now trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you, not that you can't come to the public square and argue against it, but now we're going to turn around and say we're going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square," he said. http://abcn.ws/xhxSKZ
In case you missed George's interview with Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass. and Gov. Rick Snyder, R-Mich., his conversation with two former Michigan governors - Democratic Jennifer Granholm and Republican John Engler, or the roundtable, you can watch it all here: http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/
VIDEO OF THE DAY: POLITICAL PUNCH WITH JAKE TAPPER. President Obama and Democrats have raised $250 million dollars so far this election cycle. But who actually pays for the president's travel costs so he can get to these multimillion dollar mansions to raise money? In part, you and I do. So far this year, President Obama has taken four trips, including 18 fundraisers outside the greater Washington, D.C. area. But during each trip he also conducted official business. That means that the White House - in other words, taxpayers - splits the cost with the Obama campaign. But how do they split it? WATCH: http://yhoo.it/zZY8Cc
ROMNEYS SHARE TALES OF TEENAGE ROMANCE. Just 24 hours before Michiganders head to the polls for the Republican presidential primary, Mitt and Ann Romney spent an evening up north, flaunting their Michigan roots and wooing a crowd with stories of stolen kisses and lakeside games, ABC's Emily Friedman reports from Traverse City, Mich. "You know this young lady next to me, she and I used to spend a little time in Manistee, just down the shoreline a little bit. Her parents had a cottage," Romney began. "I actually kissed her there. And ahhh - Oh yeah, oh yeah. She was 16, I was 18, you know." Quick to the draw, Ann Romney admitted to the crowd gathered in the Park Place Hotel that their teenage affection didn't go unnoticed. "This is old stompin' grounds," she said. "Mitt mentioned he stole a kiss up here. Well, that's nice. My father caught us, by the way. We were on the pier, do you remember that? I love being in Michigan because I love doing this." Refraining from mentioning chief GOP rival Sen. Rick Santorum by name, Romney did make a veiled reference to him, referring to Santorum as "one of them" in a remark about the rest of the Republican field. "We have some other good folks in the race, the other two sort of leading contenders are folks who spent their life in Washington, working there and being elected officials there," Romney said. "I don't think you can change Washington if you've been part of the culture of Washington." http://abcn.ws/AaEdKK
RICK SANTORUM FINDS NOTHING 'RESOLUTE' ABOUT ROMNEY. To a largely Tea Party group in Traverse City, Rick Santorum jabbed Mitt Romney calling him out on using the word resolute to describe himself, according to ABC's Russell Goldman. "I like this term resolute that he used the other night. Maybe he doesn't understand what the term resolute means. But it means that you're supposed to have sort of a resolve, a consistent pattern of believes. Not be for private sector when you're out there working on your own and then government bailouts when you're in public policy," Santorum told the crowd. "Not saying that you believe in conservative economics and then supporting government takeover of the healthcare system. And not saying you believe in caps and trade to be able to control people's lives and their allocation of energy resources and their manufacturers or individuals. You see, we've stood by those principles. I didn't buy the game that the left was playing to try to get more money from people so they could take more power away from you."
NOTED: A source with knowledge of the campaign confirms to ABC News' Shushannah Walshe that Santorum will begin receiving Secret Service protection tomorrow.
IS RON PAUL PLAYING WINGMAN TO MITT ROMNEY? PAUL SAYS 'NO'. ABC's Jason Volack notes that Ron Paul on Saturday reportedly laughed off any notion that he has a back room deal not to attack Mitt Romney, calling Santorum's gripes, "desperate." Paul admitted to reporters that he's never volunteered an attack on Romney during a debate, but said he "answered the questions when they asked me." Paul said that he's going for the anti-Romney vote, and right now that's with Rick Santorum. Last night in Hudsonville, MI, Ron Paul again said the allegations that he's helping Mitt Romney have been "somewhat concocted." "I think my first ad was directed towards him as a flip flopper and I don't hesitate think that there is not much we agree with and I don't hesitate to say that there is not much that we agree with maybe partially with taxes, he partially wants to go in the right direction and cut some taxes and he and I don't agree on foreign policy or monetary policy." http://bit.ly/zgd1fI
NOTED: The San Francisco Chronicle profiles Peter Thiel, the secretive billionaire hedge fund manager who is funding the pro-Paul super, PAC Endorse Liberty. Turns out, he's never met Ron Paul. http://bit.ly/A9tLkm
FOR ROMNEY, ORGANIZATION HAS IT'S DRAWBACKS. The New York Times' Ashley Parker writes that the Romney campaign's "tight management and obsession with detail, right down to the size of the American flags hung at Romney events, is precisely the image the campaign wants to convey as it seeks to present Mr. Romney as an exacting and disciplined chief executive whose candidacy is infused with inevitability. … And while Mr. Romney is now counting more than ever on superior organization and planning to pull him through what is shaping up to be a protracted state-by-state battle for delegates, he continues to fight the perception among some voters that he, like the operation working to elect him, is a triumph of political engineering over passion and authenticity. … 'Every organization is a reflection of the principal, and I think there's an attention paid to detail, ample planning is done, and this is not a campaign that says, 'Well, let's just wing it and see what happens," said Kevin Madden, a Romney adviser. 'If you look at campaigns, how they're managed and organized is often a reflection of what you expect your presidency to be like.'" http://nyti.ms/wyeefC
NEWT GINGRICH LAYS OUT THE STAKES. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, focused on a Super Tuesday victory, will be watching the Michigan battle between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney on Tuesday from Georgia, ABC's Elicia Dover reports. At a campaign stop yesterday at a church in Georgia, Gingrich said Romney has to carry Michigan. "I think he has an enormous amount at stake," Gingrich said. Though Gingrich said Michigan could be an important factor for Romney, he said of his own home state that it was very important for him to win there. "I want to focus on winning in Georgia," Gingrich said. "I think it is essential for us to do that and we are going to do everything we can between now and next Tuesday to win here at home." Gingrich said he will go to the Republican presidential convention in Tampa, Fla., to seek the nomination. A campaign source told ABC News they requested Secret Service protection last week. The campaign is still waiting to hear back on their request. http://abcn.ws/xOakAe
MORMON VOTERS WONDER: HOW MUCH SUPPORT IS TOO MUCH FOR ROMNEY? "Mormons, one of Romney's most loyal voting blocs, are often quiet about their support. That might be because the church discourages political involvement. But Mormon voters also describe another source of personal reticence - the danger they see in associating Romney too closely with his faith," reports the Washington Post's Sandhya Somashekhar. "Many say they are convinced that suspicion about their little-known religion has at least partially prevented him from cementing his front-runner status. And they neither want to draw negative attention to their faith nor hurt his chances for the presidency. 'Romney seems to have a kind of ceiling, and I think it's from a fear that he might be too tied to the church,' said Walt Tranmer, 71, as he left the bookstore on a recent morning. 'It's too bad that kind of animosity still exists.' On Tuesday, when Arizona Republicans hold their presidential primary, Mormons are expected to turn out in large numbers and give Romney an edge. In 2008, Mormons made up about 11 percent of the Republican primary electorate, according to exit polls. Though they are not a large group nationally - about 2 percent of the U.S. population - they are overwhelmingly conservative and are more likely to vote than other groups. Their influence helped push the former Massachusetts governor to a major victory earlier this month in Nevada, another state with a large number of Mormon voters." http://wapo.st/y7JHhB
PRIMARY STATE SPEED READ
by ABC's Chris Good and Elizabeth Hartfield:
-Michigan's GOP presidential primary will be open to Democrats and independents, and the Detroit Free Press reports that some Democrats will participate just to sow discord in the GOP race. Reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh's call for Republicans to vote in the 2008 Democratic contest, Michigan Democratic political consultant Joe Disano emailed Democrats urging them to turn out for Rick Santorum in order to embarrass Mitt Romney with a loss. Daily Kos has undertaken a similar push, dugging it "Operation Hilarity." http://on.freep.com/zlldoV
-A new Quinnipiac University poll of Ohio shows Santorum in the lead. According to Quinnipiac: "With strong support from men and conservatives, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum leads the Ohio GOP presidential field with 36 percent of likely Republican primary voters, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 29 points, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. But 45 percent of voters say they might change their mind. This is unchanged from the results of a February 15 survey by the independent. Today's results show former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 17 percent and Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul with 11 percent of likely Republican primary voters."
-In Ohio, one reporter argues that the choice between Romney v. Santorum v. Gingrich v. Paul is not just about deciding this year's nominee, but rather a choice about the future direction of the Ohio GOP. The results of Ohio March 6 primary "may reset Republicans' Ohio compass, for good or for ill, as surely as Ford and Reagan did in 1976." http://bit.ly/AagNMu
-A Tennessee poll shows Santorum with a huge lead over Romney in the state where Romney and his allies have put a great deal of money, and where the state's governor, Bill Haslam, serves as the chair of Romney's Tennessee campaign. http://tnne.ws/zUHVhT
-Santorum's surge appears to be helping him in Oklahoma as well, although state party officials say the race is still very fluid, and a lot will depend on this Tuesday's outcome in Michigan. http://bit.ly/yQv9Zd
- With Ron Paul trailing in polls and delegates, his supporters in Georgia are talking about a drawn-out GOP nominating process ahead of the state's Super Tuesday vote, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. http://bit.ly/z8JW4N
- Mitt Romney will hold grassroots rallies in Rockford, Albion and Royal Oak, Michigan. His son, Josh Romney, will hold meet and greets throughout Idaho.
- Rick Santorum will also campaign in Michigan, with stops in Livonia, Lansing and Kalamazoo.
- Ron Paul will meet with supporters in Detroit, East Lansing and Dearborn, Michigan.
- Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista will attend various events throughout Nashville, Tennessee.
-ABC News' Joanna Suarez
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
* Get The Note delivered to your inbox every day.
* For breaking political news and analysis check out The Note blog: http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/ and ABCNews.com/Politics: http://abcnews.com/politics