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Michigan Mormons like Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, too

Published: Sunday, Feb. 26 2012 8:03 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, walks with driver Brian Vickers, left, as they pass a race car sponsored by Romney's rival Rick Santorum before the NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012.

Terry Renna, Associated Press

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. — Nancy McIntyre enthusiastically declared her support in Michigan's GOP presidential primary Tuesday for Mitt Romney, who grew up in this affluent community.

"You bet. Yay, Mitt!" McIntyre said, pulling her plush coat tighter against the chill in the tree-shrouded parking lot of the LDS Church stake center where Romney's former ward meets, next door to Michigan's only Mormon temple.

McIntyre said after she and her husband, a retired stockbroker, converted to Mormonism years ago, they socialized with Romney's family, including his father, the late former Michigan Gov. George Romney.

"We know the basic beliefs of their family, and the background from which Mitt came," McIntyre, a native of nearby Royal Oak, said. "We have 100 percent belief in Mitt."

Still, McIntyre said she could support Romney's current chief rival for the Republican nomination, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, should he emerge as the party's choice to face President Barack Obama in November.

"They're so close in principles of belief," McIntyre said of Santorum and Romney. "If Santorum wins, we're behind him 100 percent. I hope people who are behind Santorum feel the same way about Mitt."

Romney and Santorum are waging a bitter battle for Michigan voters in a race seen as too close to call. After trailing behind Santorum for much of the month, Romney now has a slight edge in most polls.

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who will appear with Romney at rallies in two Michigan cities Monday, said voters have to decide whether fixing the economy is the most pressing issue this election year.

If it is, Leavitt said, then Romney clearly has to be their choice. Santorum has campaigned mainly on his conservative stands on social issues, especially his opposition to abortion.

"Mitt Romney got into the race because he believes the government is too large, spending is too much and it needs to be turned around," Leavitt said. "When he talks about those things, he does well."

Romney has run into trouble, however, with comments that are being portrayed as demonstrating he is out of touch with those who don't share his privileged background and professional successes.

In a speech Friday, the former Massachusetts governor who amassed a fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars turning around troubled companies, offhandedly referred to his wife's "couple of Cadillacs."

Romney attempted to address those concerns by spending part of the day at the Daytona 500 race in Florida, a traditional stop for candidates courting blue-collar "NASCAR dads," and in an interview with Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace.

"If people think there’s something wrong with being successful in America, then they better vote for the other guy," Romney told Wallace, " because I’ve been extraordinarily successful and I want to use that success and that know-how to help the American people.”

Bob Goldberg, a University of Utah history professor who has done research into how being Mormon has affected the political careers of both Romney and his father, said faith continues to be an issue with some voters.

"The fact that Mitt Romney is Mormon makes him fail litmus tests," Goldberg said. "Romney, whom I consider a pragmatic conservative, is simply not kosher enough for these ideological conservatives."

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