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No Easy Path to Winning Michigan for Perry

Gov. Rick Perry came in a distant second in the Michigan straw poll over the weekend. And his top opponents' ties to the state may make it impossible to do any better come primary day.

Rick Perry speaking at a Michigan GOP conference on Mackinac Island on Sept. 24, 2011.

On the road Rick Perry's selling Texas, or at least the notion that he can steer the rest of the country through the Great Recession as well as he claims to have done for the Lone Star State. Then again, Texas is a long, long, way from Michigan. 

“Michigan has been in bad shape for a long time," said Richard Hall, a professor at the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. While Texas has weathered the recent downturn better than many states, Michigan's money woes run deep.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

“I mean it’s just not the last two years that the auto industry failed. It’s been losing sales. We’ve been losing job – manufacturing jobs in the state of Michigan for the last several decades," Hall said. 

Add to that some grim housing numbers. Paul Lopez is with the National Association of Homebuilders.

“Michigan homebuilding actually peaked in 2004 at 54,700 housing permits. And fell to a low of 6,900 permits in 2009 and 87 percent decline," Lopez said.

That dramatic drop in new home starts, along with the manufacturing losses, have kept Michigan's unemployment rate higher than the national average.

“At the peak 4.7 million workers were employed in Michigan in February 2006. But fell to 4.1 million in November of 2009. A 12.5 percent fall," Lopez said.

Currently the Michigan unemployment rate is 11.2 percent. Almost 3 full percentage points worse than Texas.

But if Perry's hoping to sell "Texas-style prosperity" to Michigan, he may still have a numbers problem. Poverty rates in both states are above the national average, but the percentage of Texans in poverty is actually 3 points greater at 18.4 percent. In terms of health insurance, 13 percent in Michigan have no coverage — while in Texas, the percentage of uninsured is twice that. The median home price in Texas is higher by some $30,000.  And the dropout rate is worse in Texas, too.  

“So I think Michiganders will probably be skeptical of any claims about how fewer regulations and a better tax environment is going to re-stimulate the manufacturing base in this country," the Ford School's Hall said.

As the two Republican front-runners, Perry and Mitt Romney, bicker over who's most qualified to turn the economy around, both are using the same strategy to distinguish themselves from their main GOP rival: Position the other guy as close to President Obama as possible. 

Here's how Romney's been framing his rival:

“His life was in government. Nothing wrong with that. He just didn’t know how to meet a parole, how jobs start, how you compete with other business around the world, why jobs leave this country, why they come back. My life was very different then his. My experience was in the private sector,” Romney said when talking to Michigan Republicans over the weekend on Mackinac Island.

Perry has argued the main difference is in ideology.

“We don’t need to select a nominee that will blur the lines between themself and President Obama. And let me share something with ya’. I will draw a sharp contrast between President Obama and myself," Perry said to the same crowd on Saturday. 

In the end, however, the race for the GOP nomination in the key state of Michigan isn't likely to turn on either Obama  ... or Texas, for that matter.  

Though Romney's best known as governor of Massachusetts, among Republicans here, he's best remembered as the son of an auto executive and governor whose name was once synonymous with Michigan politics — George C. Romney

After Perry's Saturday speech on Mackinac Island, Michigan Republican Sandy Nolenberg suggested Perry's got a tough road ahead of him if he hopes to win the hearts of most local GOP voters.

“Romney’s from Michigan. I know his family. And I thought Perry did a nice job — but Mitt’s so far ahead in the polls I’m not so sure he’ll pull it off. But he did a nice job," Nolenberg said. 

If Nolenberg had been from Texas — she might have added, “bless his heart.”

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