BELMONT, Mass. — Don’t bet on Mitt Romney winning his home state. Or even trying.
“That’s not been a topic of discussion,” Romney campaign adviser Kevin Madden said when asked if the Republican former Massachusetts governor would compete in the heavily Democratic state.
Romney was never a hero in the liberal bastion, and aides say there are other ways he can win the White House and deny President Barack Obama a second term without the 11 electoral votes Massachusetts offers.
The fact that Romney likely cannot win Massachusetts — and probably won’t even try to — illustrates the degree to which his currying favor with conservative Republicans in GOP presidential primaries has alienated the moderate base that launched his political career.
If Romney defeats Obama while losing Massachusetts, he would be the first presidential candidate elected without carrying his home state since before the Civil War. James Polk lost Tennessee en route to the White House — 168 years ago.
In 2000, Democrat Al Gore, who had spent years in Washington as a senator and vice president, fell short of winning Tennessee in his losing White House bid. Other notable home-state losers include Democrats Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota in 1968 and Adlai Stevenson of Illinois in 1952 and 1956. Republicans need to go back to 1936 to find a nominee who didn’t carry his home state: Kansas Gov. Alf Landon.
Romney aides argue that it would be a waste of money to run TV ads and compete in a state Obama carried by 25 percentage points in 2008.
Some Massachusetts residents agree, feeling that their former governor used the state as a springboard for his national political ambitions. And some seem to resent him for it.
“He doesn’t know where he lives,” said Mike Egan, a retired independent sitting at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Belmont, near Romney’s home.
While Romney’s permanent address is the home he keeps in this upscale Boston suburb, he spends considerable time, including holidays and vacations, at his homes in California and New Hampshire.
Egan and others say Romney seemed to have his eye on the White House as soon as he arrived at the Massachusetts State House in 2003.
The following year, he made his first trip to Iowa, home of the leadoff presidential caucuses, to speak at the state GOP’s fall banquet some weeks before President George W. Bush’s re-election.
He would visit Iowa three times in 2005 and nine times in 2006. That year, Romney spent 212 days outside of Massachusetts. One trip included a visit to Iraq and Afghanistan to enhance his international credentials, just as his state grappled with a devastating flood.
“By the time he left, it became clear to everybody that he was committed to national politics,” said Massachusetts Republican Sheldon Binder, a retiree who supported Romney, as he sat near Egan.
Republicans had held the governorship for 12 straight years by the time Romney took office in 2003.
Voters were comfortable supporting candidates with right-of-center fiscal profiles. And Romney’s moderate profile, including support of abortion and gay rights, fit in with other Republicans.
But some in Massachusetts were turned off by what they saw as Romney’s effort to project a more conservative profile on hot-button issues, in part to prepare to court socially conservative activists in states such as Iowa that hold early nominating contests in election years.
Romney reversed his position on abortion while in office. And, after advocating full equality for gay and lesbian couples, he publicly condemned the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in 2003 to allow gay marriage.
With Massachusetts apparently out of reach, Romney aides are trying to claim his native Michigan as the campaign’s home turf. But while Obama can bank on winning his home state of Illinois, Michigan is no lock for Romney.
Romney, 65, was born in Detroit and grew up nearby in Bloomfield Hills, but hasn’t lived in Michigan since his teen years. Despite Michigan being viewed as competitive in recent campaigns, no Republican has carried the state since George H. W. Bush in 1988.
What’s more, Obama and other Democrats have criticized Romney for opposing the 2008 federal bailout of Detroit-based automakers Chrysler and General Motors. Romney favored allowing the companies to go through bankruptcy without taxpayer help.
Obama, meanwhile, frequently highlights his decision to extend the companies a lifeline and their return to profitability as one of the successes of his administration.
Still, Michigan is more within Romney’s reach than for any Republican in nearly a quarter century.
His family name, made by his father, George, once a governor and an automotive executive in Michigan, still resonates in the state. Romney also has influential contacts in the state, which he reminded voters about at every stop while campaigning for Michigan’s GOP primary in February, which he won.
Michigan also has trended Republican in recent state elections, including a 2010 GOP sweep of statewide offices. Detroit, the dominant force for Democrats, has seen its population shrink amid the auto industry’s troubles, while its suburbs and western and northern Michigan have kept their GOP complexion.
“The climate is much more ripe for a Republican victory in 2012,” said Jeff Timmer, a former Michigan Republican Party director. “When you add to that he does have home-state roots and an established presence, it adds an element to Michigan that no other candidate has brought to this state in a long time.”
So while Michigan may also be a stretch, it rates higher than Massachusetts on Romney’s priority list, according to former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu.
Of Romney’s chances in Massachusetts, Sununu said: “I wouldn’t rule it out completely — even though it’s No. 50 on the list.”