TROY, Mich -- Four years ago, Mitt Romney returned to the state of his birth for his only big, semi-upset win of the primaries. He clobbered John McCain by 9 points, in the state that gave McCain his own false dawn in 2000. Since then, Michigan has looked like such a sure-thing Romney win that pollsters have barely bothered to survey it. When they do, they find Romney up at least 15 points over the current field.
So instead of following Herman Cain on a bus tour around the state, I followed Romney to Troy. The handsome Polish-American hall filled up, eventually, helped by the presence of white-and-black-clad marching band from Troy High School, which played everything from "Saturday" by Earth, Wind and Fire to "Fuck You" by Ceee-Lo Green.
"Do you know the Michigan fight song?" asked Romney.
They didn't, sadly. He marched on, introduced by his wife Ann, who shared sun-dappled memories of growing up in the state.
"I love holding up my hand and saying, this is where my cottage was," she said.
Romney has a stock speech for rallies -- I've seen it now at fundraisers, open door events, closed door events -- and it plays well. The words "America" or "freedom" appear every 30 or 40 seconds.
"I love American and opportunity," he said, "I love our Constitution, and the fact that states get to compete with each other." (He's dropped a line about how much he likes the 10th Amendment.)
That's the stump speech, and even Bob Grnak, a supporter who got Romney to sign copies of magazines with his face on the cover, said the candidate was a little bit stuck on it. He didn't appreciate Romney's joke. The candidate told the crowd about a book he'd been read as a child, titled "Men to Match My Mountains."
"The title is taken from a poem," said Romney. "I learned the first four lines. Even I can learn four lines."
There were some whoa-oh kinds of noises at that, but Romney didn't make any explicit reference to Rick Perry, not even when reporters barked questions about the Texas governor as Romney worked the room.
Romney's other joke didn't come off as well. He riffed for a while about his family links to the state (this is, you won't be shocked to learn, not in other state stump speeches).
"How many of you remember George Romney?" asked the candidate. "Lenore Romney?" Nearly every hand went up. "Whoa, there you go!"
Romney reminded us that his father came to Michigan to work for Studebaker-Packard, asking if we remembered the company.
"A couple of you," observed Romney. "He was also given the chance to go to a place called Nash-Kelvinator. Now you're gettin' real old, here." He took note of who seemed to know the name. They were mostly seated near the stage, and they were elderly.
"The wheelchair crowd here, you remember Nash-Kelvinator!"