Romney can win. Romney has business experience, which is so badly needed in this country. It's at a crisis point. —John Finn
ROYAL OAK, Mich. — Retired auto-parts retailer John Finn could hardly contain his excitement over a surprise appearance by Kid Rock at Mitt Romney's final rally before Michigan's GOP presidential primary election Tuesday.
"My granddaughter is going to be so impressed," Finn said after the Detroit rocker performed his hit, "Born Free," adopted by Romney as his campaign's anthem, inside the historic Royal Oak Music Theatre on Monday night.
Finn said he was sold on Romney on a candidate long before Rock took the stage. "Romney can win. Romney has business experience, which is so badly needed in this country. It's at a crisis point," he said. "He is a man who's going to lift the entire economy."
Voters attracted to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's emphasis on his blue-collar roots and conservative stands on social issues aren't paying attention to what's important, Finn said.
"The American public can't listen for more than 15 seconds," he said. "The economy is a very complicated thing."
Polls show that Michigan's GOP voters are torn between Romney and Santorum, making the race too close to call. Romney is expected to easily win in the other state holding a primary Tuesday, Arizona.
But despite being a Michigan native and the son of one of the state's most beloved governors, Romney has struggled to connect with the state's voters who are put off by his privileged background and personal wealth.
That's frustrated another retired business owner among the more than 1,000 people at the theatre, Christine Arford.
"I love him because he's a leader. He has been very successful in all his endeavors," she said. "He is the most qualified in our field to sit in the Oval Office. It's very clear to me. I don't know why it's not clear to more."
Arford said Romney has been unfairly criticized for talking recently on the campaign trail about his wife's two Cadillacs.
"I'd be happy with one," she said. "That's what we're supposed to strive for in this country. We're supposed to want to be wealthy," she said.
She also defended Romney's opposition to the auto bailout backed by President Barack Obama that poured billions of dollars into Michigan's chief industry.
"It's nonsense. He was right," Arford said. "That is not what we do as Americans. That is un-American."
Monday night, Romney mentioned growing up in Michigan but talked more about being the best candidate to face Obama because of his business skills.
"If you want somebody who'll promise you opportunity, vote for me," Romney said, pledging to "get our economy working again. I will put people back to work."
Scott Seppala, a community college computer lab employee, said Romney's focus on the economy makes him seem more in touch with what's really important to voters.
Seppala, who had to take a job more than 100 miles away from his home, said Romney "probably makes way more than I do, but I think he's probably more moderate and down-to-earth than Santorum."
Some of Romney's family members, including several nieces and nephews with their own children in tow, turned out for the rally. Romney grew up in a more affluent community nearby.
Claudia Bello-Valbuena, an immigrant from Columbia and a neighbor of a Romney relative, said he shouldn't be blamed for doing well.
"If he has money, it's because he's been successful," she said.
The stay-at-home mom who is planning on going back to college said she couldn't support Santorum because of his views.
"I don't like Santorum because he's too conservative," Bellow-Valbuena said. "I don't want anyone telling me I can't use birth control."
Hours earlier Monday, workers fought an icy wind whipping through a depressed area of Detroit on their way to the employee parking lot during a shift change at Chrysler's massive truck assembly plant.
Dave Martinelli, who claimed to be one of the few Republicans working in the plant, said he'll probably vote for Romney.
“He’s the hometown guy,” Martinelli said.
Unlike many of his co-workers, Martinelli said he’s not concerned about Romney having too much money to understand what it's like to have to struggle.
“I don’t want to vote for somebody who made $70,000 last year. I want to vote for somebody who made $5 million,” Martinelli said.
Romney, he said, is an accomplished man who not only had a successful career as head of Bain Capitol, a private equity and venture capital firm based in Boston, but also turned around the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
And, Martinelli said, he's a big step up from the Republican nominee in the 2008 presidential election, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who beat Romney for the GOP nomination four years ago.
This time around, he said, Romney’s latest chief rival doesn’t have what it takes to win. “Santorum doesn’t have the fire in his belly,” he said.
Another autoworker, James Fergerson, said there's no question he and just about everyone he knows will vote for Obama again in November.
"We're all for Obama. He helped us out," Fergerson said, citing the bailout that supporters say kept the troubled auto industry from failing.
He called opposition to the bailout by Romney and other Republicans "crazy. That would put a lot of people out of jobs. What they're doing, what they're saying, doesn't make sense."
If Romney tried to explain his position to auto workers directly, Fergerson said he wouldn't get very far. "He wouldn't even last," he said. Fergerson said he's disappointed in the tone of the GOP primary.
"It's like it's a feud," he said. "They keep talking about each other rather than about what needs to be done for this country."