Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are the only two Republican presidential candidates who can afford to spend their time and money in states that aren't first on the primary calendar.
That helps explain their appearances Saturday in Michigan, where GOP voters will have their say in 2012, but only after Iowa, New Hampshire and several other states that second-tier contenders must win to survive.
"It's really about these two up here," said Jase Bolger, the speaker of Michigan's House of Representatives.
Compare that with 2007, when the Michigan gathering drew seven presidential candidates, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. Missing was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was struggling at the time, though he did win the Iowa caucuses in early 2008.
While Romney and Perry played to the GOP faithful on this resort island in the Great Lakes, their rivals were scattered.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was in New Hampshire, where he's staked his candidacy. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota was busy fundraising as she struggles to remain a relevant force in the race. Businessman Herman Cain, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania were in Florida, site of a straw poll.
For Romney, a Michigan native, the event was a homecoming. His father was governor and Romney, set to speak Saturday evening, spent summers on Mackinac as a child at the governor's summer residence.
"Support for Romney is really strong," said Bolger, who endorsed the former Massachusetts governor last week and is one of more than two dozen state legislators backing Romney.
Romney held a meeting with those lawmakers as Perry was set to speak at a lunch a few floors below at the Grand Hotel, where there's a string of photos of Romney's father. One person arrived wearing a "Romney" button, from George Romney's 1962 campaign for governor.
Perry's speech offered him the chance to make his introduction to the state. The Texas governor arrived in Mackinac after speaking to Florida activists Saturday morning. "It's great to be in a state that picks presidents," Perry said in Orlando.
His campaign is trying to shake off the perception that he's struggling after a lackluster debate performance Thursday.
Perry didn't plan any retail events in Michigan, unlike Romney, who stopped at a diner on the Upper Peninsula on his way to Mackinac.
The docks where the ferries arrive were decorated with several "Romney for President" signs and the island was packed with volunteers handing out campaign literature.
"We're not taking anything for granted," said Rob Macomber, Romney's state director for Michigan. "But obviously there's a lot of good will toward the Romneys here."
Romney stopped by several different Mackinac venues and held a private function with state lawmakers. He was accompanied by his wife, Ann Romney, and several aides.
Perry's debate performance had clearly heartened Romney's associates.
"It's going to happen this time," Ann Romney told Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis on her way into the meeting with lawmakers. "Perry in the debate? Shocking," she said.
In the debate, Perry's rivals raised questions about his record on immigration, public health and Social Security.
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