“Day by day, event by event, Michigan's critical primary on Tuesday is crystallizing the dramatic differences between Romney and Santorum” the AP’s Hunt writes. “The contrasts are both stylistic and substantive, and they illustrate why Romney, a multimillionaire business executive and a Mormon, is suddenly struggling in the presidential primary in the state where he was born and raised as he runs against Santorum, a strict Catholic who wears sweater vests and highlights his background as the senator from another suffering manufacturing state, Pennsylvania.”
“Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum furiously dueled Sunday ahead of a watershed contest in Romney’s home state that will reshape the contours of the Republican Party’s quest to unseat President Obama,” the New York Daily News writes. (By the way, check out the photo in the story of Romney at Daytona with a car behind him that says “Rick Santorum” on it.)
And despite religious voters’ crucial role in Republican primaries, “Romney hasn't appeared at or held a public event at a church since he announced his bid for president in June, though he has attended Sunday services -- joining a Mormon congregation in West Des Moines the weekend before the Iowa caucuses, for example. He focuses on his general economic message instead.”
“Before previous contests he’s lost, Romney’s handlers have tried to lower expectations. But he sounded more confident Sunday of turning back Santorum’s challenge in Michigan, where Romney grew up, son of a GOP political icon,” the Daily News continues.
“Gentlemen, start your engines. GOP rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are neck-and-neck coming into tomorrow’s primary in Michigan, yet spent yesterday courting conservative voters at the washed-out Daytona 500 in Florida,” the New York Post writes.
No apologies… (Where’s Jon Huntsman when you need him…) “After two US military advisers were killed inside Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry, and others have been wounded in demonstrations over the apparently unintentional burning of Korans by Americans, the top contenders in the Republican presidential race continue to say President Obama was wrong to apologize for the burning,” the Boston Globe writes.
Mitt Romney on Fox News Sunday: “I think for a lot of people, this sticks in their throat. The idea that we’re there, having lost thousands of individuals to casualty and death -- we’ve made an enormous contribution there to help the people there achieve freedom. For us to be apologizing at a time like this is something that is very difficult for the American people to countenance.”
On Meet the Press, Santorum said Karzai should apologize for Afghani overreaction.
Roll Call’s Drucker: “As the volatile Republican primary drags on, party operatives are growing concerned that their presidential nominee could be woefully unprepared to wage a national campaign against President Barack Obama.”
To that point, The Hill’s Joseph writes, “Republicans are weighing a change to the party’s presidential primary rules amid fears this year’s prolonged nomination process is hurting the GOP’s chances of retaking the White House.”
ROMNEY: The Boston Globe: “[A] loss for Romney in his native state would be a crippling blow, with only a week to recover before Super Tuesday’s 11-state blitz on March 6.”
The Hill’s headline: “Michigan tipping point: Primary becomes referendum on Romney.” From the story: “The most important contest of the Republican nomination battle is just 24 hours away, with the fight for Michigan seen as pivotal in determining the party’s nominee.”
Romney again said people could vote for someone else… “Two days after Romney told Michigan voters that he drives a Mustang and a Chevy pick-up truck and his wife drives ‘a couple of Cadillacs,’ Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked Romney if he understands why voters see him as out of touch,” the Boston Globe writes. “Romney responded that he and Ann have cars in California and in Boston – both places where the Romneys have homes. ‘If people think there’s something wrong with being successful in America, then they’d better vote for the other guy,’ Romney said. ‘Because I’ve been extraordinarily successful, and I want to use that success and that know-how to help the American people.’”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer endorsed Romney on Meet the Press.
SANTORUM: “Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who has made his conservative stance on religious and social issues one of the centerpieces of his Republican presidential campaign, today questioned the idea of a complete separation of church and state,” the Boston Globe says. “Santorum stood by comments he made last year when he said after reading President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech about the separation of church and state, ‘I almost threw up.’”
The New York Daily News: “Rick Santorum: JFK's promise to keep Pope out of politics 'makes me want to throw up.’” Here’s what he said: “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up.”
Here’s this damning headline on a Thomas DeFrank column: “Rick Santorum is not suitable to take on Obama.” From the column: “There’s much to admire about Santorum, starting with faith and family. He’s been indefatigable on the campaign trail, persevering as critics mocked his prospects and flourishing on a shoestring budget as bigger names blew themselves out of contention. He’s smart, resourceful and committed, with a compelling personal story as well.” But: “Santorum exhibited the oratorical indiscipline well known to reporters who cover his campaign events. His rambling is reminiscent of Hubert Humphrey and Jack Kemp, among others, who couldn’t stop gabbing, to their detriment as candidates. … Unless an incumbent is so detested anyone else is preferable, voters need to be sure the alternative is capable of being President. Santorum seems more suited as an undersecretary of commerce, not leader of the free world.”
Santorum defended calling President Obama a “snob” for wanting everyone to go to college, but also seemed to backtrack a bit on “Meet the Press”: "What I've said is I want everyone to have the opportunity to go to college, or whatever other higher training skills," he said. "But it doesn't mean you have to go to a four-year college degree... I think everyone should have the opportunity. It's about what's best for you."
Santorum had said: "President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob. … I understand why [Obama] wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image."
But he still leads in Ohio. Political Wire: “A new Quinnipiac poll in Ohio shows Rick Santorum leading the GOP presidential field with 36% of likely Republican primary voters, followed by Mitt Romney at 29%, Newt Gingrich at 17% and Ron Paul at 11%.”