SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — Is this it for Mitt?
Mitt Romney is rolling through Michigan this weekend touting himself as a favorite son, looking wistfully at the crowds waving foam mitts and being introduced by his brother Scott as "someone who was made in Michigan."
But if the voters don't agree — and there's some evidence they don't — Romney could find that his old friends and neighbors have all but derailed his 2008 Republican presidential bid.
Romney finished second in this month's Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, contests he banked heavily on winning. He's leading in key polls here, but nothing is assured in a state where John McCain, Romney's most prominent nemesis, won the GOP primary eight years ago and is back stumping hard.
The voter mood here is tentative. People are only just starting to focus on the race, and many are still candidate-shopping. The McClatchy-MSNBC poll taken Jan. 9 to 11 found 11 percent of voters undecided — and 39 percent saying they could change their minds about their candidate.
"I was leaning to McCain, but I've been having doubts about his age," said Tim Crabb, a retired postal worker from Farmington Hills. Jerry Deisinger, a Redford businessman, voted for McCain in 2000 but is less inclined this time.
"He's sounding like a Democrat," Deisinger said, "and Romney would bring a business background."
Romney is counting heavily on his roots to pull him up. At a rally Sunday at Lawrence Technological University in this Detroit suburb, the crowd of about 600 saw Scott look at Mitt and wife Ann and holler, "They were born in Michigan, they were raised in Michigan, they were married in Michigan."
Then Mitt talked about how he loves being here because "about all the cars you see are American, made the way they ought to be...people speak without an accent...and the skies are cloudy all day."
But while Romney's father George was a popular governor of Michigan, he left office 39 years ago, and Mitt has lived in Massachusetts virtually all of his adult life and was that state's governor until last January.
His Michigan ties do help a bit.
"The Romney name is an institution," said Jerry Vorva, a real estate broker from Plymouth. "Romney understands us more than other people running. At least he did live here," added Jeff Kloster, a St. Clair Shores computer programmer.
Not everyone shares that view. "Most people probably wouldn't remember George Romney, especially younger people. This race is close, but I think McCain's going to win," said Colin Dowds, a DVD manufacturing worker from Farmington Hills.
The economy, not Romney's lineage, is the paramount issue here — Michigan's seasonally adjusted jobless rate of 7.4 percent in November was well above the national average — and Friday, Romney began running an ad explaining how "I grew up in Michigan when Michigan was the pride of America.
"It breaks my heart to see us in a one-state recession," he says. "We can change that."
Backers think the message will have impact. Not only does Romney understand Michigan, said State Rep. David Hildenbrand of Lowell, but "he'd have connections from his family" with top officials who could help Michigan.
But a lot of people view the I-love-and-understand-Michigan tour this weekend with skepticism.
"Mitt Romney hasn't been here for awhile," said Holly Hughes, the state's Republican National Committeewoman. She spent two years trying to decide whom to endorse, finally setting on McCain because, she said, he's consistent in where he stands.
RNC Committeeman Charles Yob also distanced himself from Romney, even though he helped him in his 1994 Massachusetts U.S. Senate campaign at George Romney's request.
Romney is dogged here by the same charge he faced in Iowa and New Hampshire — that he changes to suit his political needs. Voters and political officials cite his support for abortion rights before the mid-1990s, and his subsequent embrace of anti-abortion views.
"He likes change, and he'll tell you that," Hughes said half-jokingly of Romney.
Romney also faces two other problems: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has an enthusiastic corps of evangelical Christians and low-tax advocates pushing his bid, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, whose Internet-charged campaign has made him a factor here.
Romney thinks he can trump all this by being the boy who came home, by telling tales about how he and Ann met and recalling going to the Detroit auto show with his dad as a kid.
If it works, the Romney team figures, he's very much back in the presidential game. The stakes are huge. As Benjamin Kleinerman, assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University, put it, "If he doesn't win this, I think he's done."
The candidate, however, insisted in a CBS Face the Nation appearance on Sunday that he'd hang in there. "Right after Michigan, we're going off to South Carolina and to Nevada and then to Florida, and we're going all the way through Feb. 5," Romney said.