Mitt Romney works to make inroads with Michigan 'tea party' vote

Mitt Romney's fate in Michigan -- his native state where he is facing an increasingly difficult race -- will rest on voters like Maribeth Schmidt.

The "tea party" activist and mother of three took part in a panel discussion with the former Massachusetts governor on Thursday morning, but remains undecided in the GOP presidential contest.

"Our venom is our vote," Schmidt told Romney, "and we intend to strike in November."

The whims of tea party voters could be a deciding factor in Michigan's Feb. 28 primary, in which 30 delegates are at stake. Romney has a home-field advantage, having grown up in the state where his father served as governor for six years, but recent polling shows rival Rick Santorum surging here.

Schmidt, 42, planned to see Santorum speak Thursday evening before she made a decision. She said she was impressed by the specificity of Romney's plans to reduce federal spending and shrink government, such as eliminating subsidies for Amtrak and the National Endowment for the Arts, handing over management of programs such as Medicaid to the states, and reducing the federal workforce by 10% through attrition.

"I was impressed with what he said. I think the tea party needs to get to know Mitt Romney. We don't really know him, I just figured he was kind of a middle-of-the-road guy without a lot of specifics," said Schmidt, who is active in the Rattle with Us Tea Party group in Plymouth. "I got a lot of specifics from Mitt today, and that impressed me. He seems to have very clear plan economically, and that really is what the tea party is most concerned with ultimately, this crushing debt, and we want someone with a strong clear plan to eliminate this debt so we don't crush our kids with it."

Schmidt was among six people who joined the roundtable with Romney at a steel galvanizing plant, a mix of tea party activists, conservative union members and others, a makeup that illustrated the coalition Romney is trying to build to win this state.

In addition to courting those concerned with the federal deficit and spending, Romney is trying to weave a nuanced stance on unions -- slashing at their leadership while courting their rank-and-file workers who fell into the Reagan Democrat category three decades ago.

"Unions play an important role in our economy," Romney said, before laying out a plan to not give union companies a preference in federal contracting, to stop allowing dues collected from workers' paychecks to be used for political purposes, and to increase international trade.

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