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Mitt Romney defends ability to relate to voters

Mitt Romney was asked on ‘‘Fox News Sunday’’ whether he understands why voters see him as out of touch.

Gerald Herbert/associated press

Mitt Romney was asked on ‘‘Fox News Sunday’’ whether he understands why voters see him as out of touch.

Mitt Romney was forced again yesterday to defend his wealth - and his ability to relate to average Americans.

Two days after Romney told Michigan voters that he drives a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck and his wife, Ann, drives “a couple of Cadillacs,’’ he was asked on “Fox News Sunday’’ whether he understands why voters see him as out of touch.

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Romney responded that he and his wife have cars in California and in Boston, 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.’’

Later in the day in Florida, Romney was asked by a reporter at the Daytona 500 track whether he follows NASCAR. “Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans,’’ he said. “But I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners.’’

With Michigan and Arizona set to hold their primaries on Tuesday, Romney is in a tighter race in his native state of Michigan than most would have predicted a month ago. Rick Santorum enjoyed a burst of momentum after victories earlier this month in Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota. He briefly topped Romney in the Michigan polls, and the two are running neck and neck.

While both have gone negative against one another, Romney has tried to reclaim the race by focusing on his hometown roots and releasing a new economic plan.

On Fox News, Romney portrayed himself as an underdog, despite the fact that he was leading in the polls until the last two weeks. He pointed out that he won Michigan in 2008 after being behind in the polls to Senator John McCain. “I think I can show that I can fight real hard and come from behind,’’ Romney said.

Some of Romney’s trouble in Michigan - home of the American car industry - stems from an op-ed article he wrote in the New York Times in 2008 titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.’’ Romney argued that the car industry should not receive a federal bailout, but should go through managed bankruptcy.

The United Auto Workers protested that stance at Romney events last week. Several Michigan leaders say the bailout was necessary, because private money was not available to help the car companies reorganize through a managed bankruptcy.

Romney stood by his view that government should have helped the car companies with guarantees only after they went through reorganization.

He also addressed criticism over his economic plan, which would cut all individual and corporate tax rates, eliminate capital gains and dividends taxes on those earning less than $200,000 a year, and limit entitlement benefits for the wealthy. Santorum has said the plan would target the wealthy and cause “class warfare.’’ Democrats have said the plan would require significant cuts to domestic programs.

Romney said he is not trying to change the progressive nature of the tax code, under which the wealthy pay a larger share, but aims to lower taxes for everyone. He said the plan will promote economic growth among businesses and will ensure that the middle class does not have a larger tax burden.

He also proposes to reduce the rate of growth in Medicare and Social Security benefits by raising the eligibility age. — SHIRA SCHOENBERG

Arizona’s governor throws support behind Romney

Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, a polarizing figure who has become a star among conservative voters for her strict opposition to illegal immigration, yesterday endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination.

Brewer’s backing comes as Romney holds a sizable lead in Arizona two days before the state’s primary. Announcing her endorsement on “Meet the Press,’’ Brewer said she was drawn to Romney’s candidacy because of his “probusiness background’’ and ability to win. — WASHINGTON POST

Patrick backs Obama on energy, bailouts

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, one of several cochairmen of President Obama’s reelection campaign, yesterday defended the president’s positions on government bailouts and energy.

Republican candidates have recently attacked Obama for policies that lead to rising gas prices. If gas prices continue to increase, the issue will be important to voters in November.

Patrick, speaking Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,’’ said rather than blaming Obama for high gas prices, the Democratic president should be credited for emphasizing energy efficiency and clean alternative energy.

All the Republican candidates have said they oppose government bailouts, for example of the auto industry, and have painted Obama as a president who supports the use of big government to solve private industry’s problems. Patrick rebutted that claim.

“It’s not about government solving every problem in everybody’s lives at the federal or state level,’’ Patrick said. “It’s about government helping people help themselves.’’ He called the Republican position that government should never get involved “foolish and impractical.” — SHIRA SCHOENBERG

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