By KASIE HUNT, ASSOCIATED PRESS
NOVI, Mich. — Locked in a close race, Mitt Romney is predicting victory in Michigan's critical primary as he hopes to prevent an unexpected loss to rival Rick Santorum in the state where the former Massachusetts governor was born and raised.
"I'm going to win in Michigan and I'm going to win across the country," Romney told the 1,000 or so supporters who crowded into the Royal Oak Music Theatre on Monday night for his last rally before voting began Tuesday.
Romney spent the past five days campaigning hard in Michigan, selling himself as a native son steeped in the auto industry that has defined the state for decades. He has a strong lead in Arizona, which also votes Tuesday.
Appearing Tuesday on Fox News Channel, Romney said his experience in private business made him the best candidate to deal with the nation's struggling economy.
"Sen. Santorum has shown himself to be an economic lightweight," Romney said. "And I don't think people want to nominate an economic lightweight to go up against the president, who also is an economic lightweight and has it made it hard for America to get working again."
Romney was forced to play catch-up in Michigan after losses to Santorum on Feb. 8 in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado. While still leading in delegates, Romney fell back in polls. A loss in Michigan would seriously damage the campaign of the on-again, off-again front-runner and probably stretch an already lengthy GOP nominating contest even more.
The Michigan fight has tightened in recent days as Romney's campaign and its wealthy super PAC allies have attacked Santorum in TV ads. Romney has been attacking Santorum's credentials as a conservative, while the former Pennsylvania senator has told voters that Romney can't be trusted to uphold socially conservative principles.
Romney and his allies now turn their attention to the 10 states that vote March 6, Super Tuesday. Romney's campaign bought more TV airtime for ads in Ohio while the super PAC Restore Our Future plans to spend more on TV ads in Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia and Oklahoma.