MILFORD, Michigan - Seemingly riding the positive vibes off last night's strong debate performance, Mitt Romney returned to Michigan energized, connecting with voters here on an atypically emotional level.
Much of his speech to Tea Party groups here Thursday night was standard stump, but he related two stories about his father and boyhood in Michigan, and another about the Olympics, hosted in the wake of 9/11, that had audience members nodding approvingly- even wiping away tears.
Wearing blue jeans and an open collar, Romney seemed relaxed, confident - even, well, at home. A stark contrast to his more downbeat performances in recent days.
He did not mention any other candidates by name, but subtly jabbed Rick Santorum.
"Last night, one candidate explained why he voted against his principles. He said you have to take one for the team every now and again. Well, my team is the United States of America."
Notably, Romney, who just weeks ago was expected to handily win Michigan but is now in a virtual tie with Santorum, tried to connect with his home state audience on a personal level.
"I remember, as a little boy… I was born in Detroit, Harper Hospital, our home was right around Six Mile and Woodward, a place called Palmer Park. We had a home there. It's been bulldozed now because it turned, I guess, into an eyesore or a place where drugs were being used so they had to tear it down. It was a lovely home.
"I think my dad had a job like being the grand master or whatever of the 50th celebration of the automobile in Detroit. They painted Woodward Avenue with gold paint… my memory is a little foggy here…. so I was probably four or something like that, and had the cars go down Woodward Avenue. I know they still have the parade of cars every year.
"But what an extraordinary city this is, and how sad it is to see the city of Detroit suffering as it is now, and the entire state. Over the last decade it seems that Michigan has been suffering a one-state recession, and that recession of course spilled out across the entire nation. That old saying, as goes General Motors, so goes the entire nation? There seems to be some truth to that," he said.
Romney focused much of his ire at President Obama, claiming the president could not campaign on his record so had instead decided to scapegoat the rich and create division between the country's richest 1 percent and the remaining 99 percent.
"Because [Obama] can't talk about housing values, he can't talk about unemployment statistics, he can't talk about how Iran is settling out, or how the Arab Spring is working out, he can't talk about 24 million Americans out of work, 8 percent unemployment plus for 36 straight months, so he's got to find some other way to attack, and his attack is to try and divide America," he said.
"And he will divide the one percent versus the 99 percent, and that's very tempting to fall into that kind of attack. When you're in trouble, finding a scapegoat and attacking is a ploy that's been used over the years by people in trouble," he said.
The former Massachusetts governor also told a moving story about Salt Lake City Olympian Derek Para, a Latino American speed skating medalist, who said the the highlight of the games was not winning gold but carrying the American flag retrieved from Ground Zero into the Olympic stadium to the strains of the Star Spangled Banner.