Somehow, Michigan became do-or-die for Mitt Romney. The guy isn’t much of a closer, is he? There’s a story in the USA Today sports section saying that most baseball closers can’t keep their job for more than a year or two. Just too hard. Maybe closing is a lost art. Even Lincoln had trouble closing after Gettysburg/Vicksburg. I smell a baseball/politics/Civil War trend story.

I’m in Michigan for a few days, seeing the sights. It’s cold and wet without the decency to be actually snowing. I think I’m going later to the Henry Ford Museum and then around the Detroit area, maybe to Mitt Romney’s old stomping ground (though it’s hard to picture Mitt stomping, exactly. Skipping, maybe?).

I brought my passport in case I need to slip into Canada again. It’s becoming habit-forming. Can you go to Canada twice within a week with a straight face?

I talked to Charley Ballard yesterday. He’s a prominent economist at Michigan State, and he said Michigan lost 860,000 jobs between the employment peak in 2000 and the bottom of the recession in 2009. That’s an astonishing number of job losses for a single state. The economy is improving a bit lately, but still, this is a state where people remember the boom times of the 50s and 60s, when Flint was a wealthy city, when American cars ruled the world and no one had yet heard of an imported Toyota Corolla. The other countries that made cars — Germany, Korea, Japan — were still clearing the rubble from the war.

The Democratic candidate has won Michigan the last five elections. But even if it’s not a classic swing state, it’s still in play. The Republicans swept in 2010. The congressional delegation and the state legislature are in GOP control. A Republican is governor of the state. So it’s not exactly a slam dunk for Obama. It’s hard to know how Romney’s status as a native son would play into the contest (if he’s the nominee). He was part of the elite here, back in the day. And he and Santorum have both opposed the auto bailout. Ballard says that if the auto companies had gone bankrupt they’d have taken down the entire supply chain, which would have roiled the other auto manufacturers as well, with job losses that might have risen into the millions.

More later from the road....