Mitt Romney wins GOP primary in home state of Michigan
Son of auto chief prevails despite opposition to bailouts
Mitt Romney: "We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough."
DETROIT -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Republican primary in his home state of Michigan in a race that focused on the U.S. government rescue of the auto industry.
Romney carried 41 percent of the vote to former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's 38 percent.
Romney's victory came in spite of the Michigan native's public criticism of the government bailout of General Motors and Chrysler in 2008 and 2009.
"We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough and that's all that matters," Romney told a campaign gathering Tuesday night in Novi, Mich.
Romney, celebrating his victory, laid out concrete plans for being president, but made no specific reference to the auto industry. He called for more jobs, less debt and smaller government as well as a government that was "simpler, smaller and smarter."
His twin victories Tuesday, in Michigan and Arizona, give him fresh momentum heading into "Super Tuesday" next week, when 10 states across the country hold presidential nominating contests.
The race turned negative for the last several weeks. Santorum, who also opposed the auto bailouts, appealed to working class Republicans. During a speech Tuesday night, Santorum said his campaign gained momentum challenging Romney in his home state.
"A month ago they didn't know who we were, but they do now," Santorum told a campaign gathering in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The Michigan primary was punctuated by the ongoing debate over the auto bailouts of 2008-2009, which were begun by Republican President George W. Bush and continued by successor Barack Obama, a Democrat.
All four of the major GOP candidates opposed the bailouts, which saved Chrysler and GM through government-sponsored bankruptcies in 2009. The government spent $85 billion in all to shore up the then-crippled auto industry, including $49.5 billion to save GM, the largest of the Detroit automakers.
GM and Chrysler have since returned to profitability and added U.S. jobs, a turnaround President Obama has touted on the campaign trail.
Romney publicly opposed the automakers' rescue early on, penning an op-ed for The New York Times entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
In the run up to the Michigan election, Romney intensified his anti-bailout rhetoric. He wrote an op-ed for The Detroit News in mid-February criticizing the government bailouts as "crony capitalism on a grand scale."
He's also taken jabs at Obama administration for its handling of the automakers' restructuring and criticized the president for backing union leaders at the expense of other stakeholders.
Santorum, meanwhile, took a more measured tone in voicing his opposition to the auto bailouts. The Pennsylvania native says he's against government intervention in general and has described the rescues of GM and Chrysler as setting a "dangerous" precedent.
At the same time, Romney tried to court Michigan votes by playing up his ties to the Great Lakes state, where his father was a three-term governor and former CEO at American Motors Corp.
In a campaign speech last week in Detroit, he emphasized his love for American cars and told attendees he drives a Mustang and Chevy pickup truck.
His wife, Ann, Romney added, drives "a couple of Cadillacs." The remark immediately drew fire from critics who viewed it as another example that Romney is out of touch with the nation's struggling economy. Some news commentators labeled it a "gaffe."
Public sentiment toward the auto bailouts has also swung the other way.
A poll released last week by the Pew Research Center showed that 56 percent of respondents viewed government aid extended to GM and Chrysler in 2009 as mostly good for the economy. That's a reversal from October 2009, when a majority of those polled by Pew saw the bailouts as negative.
Despite his efforts to swing Michigan his way, Santorum lacked what has been viewed as Romney's most valuable asset -- a well-organized, well-funded campaign that counts among its top donors some of the nation's wealthiest families, including several from Michigan.
Santorum had hoped his grass-roots message and streamlined organization could deliver a punch and he even went so far as to court Democrats to vote for him in Michigan's open primary against Romney. His efforts were not enough.
Philip Nussel , Danielle Emerson and Reuters contributed to this report.