Crucial Republican Clash In Romney's Back Yard

The race for the Republican nomination for the White House has resumed with Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in a critical showdown in Michigan.

People in the snowy far north of the United States are voting for their chosen Republican candidate - where the pair were neck and neck in opinion polls during frantic last-minute campaigning.

Until a few weeks ago, Mr Romney was clear favourite to win the state in which he was born and raised and where his father George was governor.

But Mr Santorum's momentum from victories in three states during February has closed the gap and once again thrown wide open the contest for the chance to take on Barack Obama later this year.

Mr Romney has been guilty of adding to his list of campaign-trail gaffes - talking about how many cars his family owns and his rich friends - which, critics say, show him to be out of touch with ordinary Americans during the financial crisis.

He also famously criticised the government bailout of Detroit's car industry, now credited with saving thousands of jobs, saying instead it should have been left to go bankrupt.

Rick Santorum 's focus on religious and social issues has proved a hit with conservative voters but has taken attention away from what concerns most Americans.

In Detroit's Eastern Market, voter Chris Ellis told Sky News he believed the economy should be the focus.

He said: "I'd love to see any candidate, Republican or Democrat, say 'This is the way we'll do it, we'll make cuts.'

"People will be mad but at least you know you're heading in the right direction as far as doing the right thing."

Both candidates have spent the last 24 hours trading insults while senior Republicans have expressed concerns that the long and bitter battle is damaging the party's chances.

Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, himself talked about as a potential presidential candidate, said: "I don't know anybody who thinks if you started out to design a good process to pick a president you'd choose exactly what we have now."

And Maine governor Paul LePage said: "If they continue to beat each other up, then maybe we should get somebody unknown to go against Obama.

"They're damaging themselves. It's like a marital battle. Somebody's got to apologise."

Mr Romney is expected to win the day's other primary in Arizona and the scramble to secure crucial voting delegates will reach a critical stage when 10 states vote on Super Tuesday next week.

But defeat in Michigan would be a devastating blow for Mr Romney , a candidate presumed to be favourite all along.

His father, George, also failed in a run for the Republican nomination, and Bill Ballenger, a friend to both men, says he sees history repeating itself.

He told Sky News: "With George Romney you knew what you were getting. In fact Mitt Romney described his father as 'the real deal'.

"Well, a lot of people think maybe Mitt Romney is not the real deal. That's the problem."

The two other candidates in the race, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, have struggled for attention in Michigan and have directed resources at other states.

The candidate to face Mr Obama will be chosen at the Republican Party convention in Tampa, Florida, in August.

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