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As he settles in for an extended siege, Romney possesses at least one very useful quality. It's not money--though the wealthy investor's deep-pocketed campaign and free-spending super PAC have certainly come in handy as he fights off one challenger after another; Team Romney apparently outspent Santorum 2 to 1 in Michigan. The useful Romney trait is resilience. No matter what blows he has suffered at the hands of a ragtag succession of surging anti-Mitts, Romney just hitches up his pressed blue jeans, shellacs his salt-and-pepper hair into place and goes back to the grind.
A few days before the votes were counted in Michigan, Romney switched on his happy face and took the stage before a crowd of well over 500 Tea Party supporters at a banquet hall in Milford, Mich., on the outskirts of Detroit. He was fresh from yet another one of his efficient, B-plus debate performances. He is almost always good enough in those forums to deflate whichever opponent is soaring highest that day but never quite winning enough to close the deal with Republican voters. The night before, at a debate in Arizona, Romney had put former Senator Santorum in a box labeled "Washington insider" and ruthlessly nailed down the lid. Forced to explain an unpopular vote, Santorum offered weakly that he'd had to "take one for the team," and now Romney was in Michigan hoping to carve those go-along, get-along words into Santorum's political tombstone.
By the end of his Milford speech, the man from Massachusetts--no favorite of the Tea Partyers--had the potentially hostile crowd on its feet, cheering and whistling. Romney was beaming. His Michigan state chairman--the state's attorney general, Bill Schuette--was ecstatic. "A home run," Schuette declared. "He spoke the Tea Party language."
But what's this? "I'm still kind of on the fence," Larry Herzinger, a retired engineer and member of the Brighton, Mich., Tea Party, said afterward. "I tend to be more conservative than Mitt Romney." And Wes Nakagiri, founder of a Tea Party organization called RetakeOurGov, confessed, "My gut says Santorum."
Romney can't break through and won't break down. He makes up for lack of raw political talent with sheer political endurance. Stamina, however, is no substitute for agility. And so Michigan found him, after his big Tea Party speech, addressing the friendly, suited executives of the Detroit Economic Club inside a cavernous football stadium, Ford Field. The arena felt empty, but the crowd was warm. The speech was flat but harmless. He was almost to the end when he launched into pandering about his love of American cars. He mentioned his Mustang, which was good politics, and his pickup truck, which was even better. But then he stumbled onto the topic of his wife's "two Cadillacs." He went on to botch a populist moment at the Daytona 500 by mentioning that his "great friends are NASCAR team owners."