Mitt Romney at Ford Field

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Scott Olson / Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to members of the Detroit Economic Club during a luncheon at Ford Field on Feb. 24, 2012 in Detroit.

Mitt Romney is on the 35-yard line. He’s at Ford Field, home of the once-struggling Lions, in Detroit, home of the still-struggling economy, to deliver a juiced up version of his stump speech. “A bold conservative plan for growth,” he bills it. But despite the 1,200 guests of the Detroit Economic Club arranged in folding chairs on the astroturf, through the TV feed it sounds as if Romney’s words are echoing just a little too much in the otherwise deserted stadium.

“I want to talk policy today,” he says after the warm introductions by various political luminaries of Romney’s native state. “This is not exciting and barn burning, but it’s important.” He’s describing his speech, but could be describing his candidacy.

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Romney takes the crowd through the usual drills. Millions out of work. Home values vanished. Too much debt, and too much President Obama. “Deep confidence in a better tomorrow is the basic promise of America,” he says. “Today, that promise is being threatened by a faltering economy and a lack of presidential leadership.” And then the turn: “That’s why I’m running for President. I want to restore America’s promise.”

He sprints through his new proposal for across-the-board 20% tax cuts, and jogs around his old ones for zeroing taxes on investment earning for those making less than $200,000 a year, no alternative minimum tax, no estate tax, and the promise that these supply side efforts will bring roaring growth. Entitlements scaled back, discretionary spending reined in.

He swells with confidence. “I not only think I have the best chance” to beat Obama, he says. “I think I have the only chance.”

And of course the local nod: “Detroit should not just be the Motor City of America. It must be the Motor City of the world.” It’s a good line. He always has one ready.

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At the end of prepared remarks, in the earnestness that pundits constantly demand from him before roundly criticizing the result, Romney goes off script to tell the folding chairs just how much he loves their state.

“I actually love this state,” he says, not a hint of insincerity in his voice. “This feels good being back in Michigan. You know, the trees are the right height” –a line he’s been mocked for by late-night comedians, but proudly says again. “The streets are just right. I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck.”

But then he overshares: “Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs actually,” he says. Yes, his wife drives more than one luxury car. And the rest of the speech is suddenly about to be blotted out by the media narrative, fair or not, that a wealthy former private equity executive can’t connect with Real Americans. And Mitt Romney is still on the 35-yard line.

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