DETROIT -- The Romney campaign responds to this:
"I think we've already won when you consider it is Romney's home state. The fact that we're even in the conversation is a win for us." -- Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley, to the Detroit News
"You don’t win by losing." -- Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul, in a statement e-mailed to reporters Monday around midday
It's a sign of the Romney campaign's confidence that Romney will win the popular vote in Michigan on Tuesday, and that the Santorum campaign is positioning itself to claim a partial victory in a state where delegates will be awarded proportionally.
Santorum, like Gidley, also played down the topline result in Michigan Monday morning, at a speech in Livonia, Mich.
"I am, as you can imagine, pretty excited to be here. This was not a place that frankly that I thought we were going to be competing at the level that we're competing," Santorum said. "We're excited, because this is a great place to show the kind of potential that our campaign has."
That's because while a week ago it looked like Santorum had the upper hand, the long lull in the primary -- no states have voted since the three Feb. 7 contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri that Santorum won -- gave the Romney campaign the time to build its candidate back up after Romney's slugfest with Newt Gingrich in Florida.
Most observers will focus on the Romney attack machine and note that once again it drove up an opponent's negatives, allowing Romney to pull back ahead of Santorum like he did Gingrich in Florida. But what will likely be overlooked in the retelling of the 2012 GOP primary is that the Romney campaign needed time to go positive after its losses on Feb. 7, in order to set up the negative attacks on Santorum. If there had been primaries or caucuses a week after Feb. 7, or even two weeks after, the critiques of Santorum by Romney and the super PAC supporting him would have been far less effective.
So the Romney campaign released an ad showing the former Massachusetts governor, who was born and raised in the Detroit suburbs, driving a car around what looked like Detroit and emphasizing his roots in the state.
"I want to make Michigan stronger and better. Michigan has been my home and this is personal," Romney said in the ad.
Romney also talked about entitlements and about tax reform, going back on his previous position that individual marginal tax rates should be held steady and promising to cut them by 20 percent.
After enough time had passed after Feb. 7, the storyline about Romney's negative attacks on Gingrich had subsided. But a withering mix of mailers, radio ads, online ads, surrogate blitzes, and of course, TV ads, was still hitting Santorum.
The last few weeks haven't been exactly smooth sailing for Romney. He and his campaign have committed a string of largely superficial gaffes that have fed the impression that he is an awkward candidate who inspires little passion or support.
But the attacks on Santorum have worked. Santorum's negatives are decidely up. Whatever the outcome in Michigan and in the primary, this "rubicon of downtime," as Romney's political director referred to it in December, served as a buffer to slow down Santorum.