The battle among Republicans in next week's GOP primary has created a pressure cooker in Michigan.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who enjoyed an early, commanding lead in the polls, is seeing his numbers shift. Meanwhile, native son Mitt Romney is striving to regain his front-runner status. The outcome could be pivotal for both candidates heading into the 10-state Super Tuesday primary on March 6.
Last night in Jackson, aspiring first-lady Ann Romney visited electoral Ground Zero. At a Republican party Lincoln Day dinner, she talked up her husband’s ballyhood reputation as the 'go-to' guy.
"I have seen what he has done in his lifetime," she says. "Whenever there's been a company in trouble, who did they bring in to try to fix it? It would always be Mitt."
Today, the Romney campaign is working to fix a gap in polling numbers. Although it's been shrinking, front-runner Rick Santorum has enjoyed a persistent lead.
The battle's often focused on which candidate appeals more to the party's conservative base. A few days ago on WKAR-TV, Santorum talked up his high-ranking from the National Taxpayers Union.
"That I was the most conservative Senator on fiscal and tax issues of anybody in the United States Senate," he said.
Santorum supporters echo Scott Clark of Olivet. He's invigorated by the former senator's right-wing credentials and really dislikes what he views as Mitt Romney's changing positions.
"If a Republican is flip-flopping quite a bit like he has, about birth control and different things, then I feel that, you know, we have to stick to our guns and say 'What does he really believe in?,' he says. "Santorum seems to be sticking to his guns with everything."
At the Penn Avenue Diner in Lansing, Virgil Keepes nurses a cup of coffee. He used to support Ron Paul, but has shifted his support to Santorum. He has harsh words for Mitt Romney.
"Romney’s a sissy," he says. "I just don’t think he’ll stand up to anybody."
Keepes' support was part of a statewide Santorum surge about 10 days ago. He puts his own spin on the phenomenon.
"We gotta call him 'sandstorm' is what we gotta do with Rick,” he laughs.
"That’s a good thing?," Bashore asks.
"That’s a good thing," Keepes replies.
Area Romney supporters are standing by their candidate's conservative credentials. David Harns of Dansville, a Romney volunteer, says backing a real conservative is his highest priority.
"I am comfortable voting for him as a conservative," he says. "If you really look at the issues, he has a good conservative record with the 'right to life' people in Massachusetts. If you research the people who are in Massachusetts who were there during his leadership, you’ll see that they see him as conservative. There's no reason people in Michigan shouldn't as well."
Harns acknowledges Romney's former pro-choice stand, but says he's otherwise been consistent, and he touts his man’s executive experience.
One veteran Lansing politico offers another consideration. Bill Ballenger is editor of 'Inside Michigan Politics.' The former Republican state lawmaker points out that in this open primary, the votes of Democrats and Independents will matter too.
"What if they get into this primary and vote for, maybe Rick Santorum, simply to stick a big stick in the spokes of the wheel of Mitt Romney and cause him problems and embarrass the Republican Party in Michigan and nationally?," he asks. "They could do that."
The calculus also assumes Romney would be stiffer competition than Santorum in a November face-off with President Obama. In the meantime, the poll-watching continues and the hours tick away till Tuesday, when the steam is finally let out of the Michigan pressure cooker.