BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Mitt Romney grew up in this highly affluent town, on a secluded street in the richest suburb in the most well-heeled county in Michigan.
And though he hasn't lived here for nearly half a century, Oakland County saved him from a humiliating primary election defeat at the hands of Rick Santorum, a man who two months ago was almost totally unknown in Michigan.
The son of one of Michigan's best-known governors beat Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, by a mere 32,000 votes. Almost all that came from his margin in Oakland County.
Wayne County, which includes the city of Detroit, where Romney was born in 1947, gave him a margin of nearly 10,000. Take away those two counties, and the native son lost Michigan.
Santorum beat Romney in two-thirds of the state's counties. They each carried the same number of congressional districts, and split Michigan's convention delegates 16-14.
When the results were clear, Romney told his supporters, "We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough." But did he? Not according to a senior Santorum strategist, who was quoted as saying the contest was essentially a tie — and that the vote could "only be seen as a disaster for Mitt Romney."
That's not likely to be the way most people perceive it. The former Massachusetts governor did win — and also defeated his main rival in Arizona the same day by a much larger margin. That gives him some momentum heading into this week's 10-state Super Tuesday contest, which includes the primary in Ohio.
Romney has far more money and more troops on the ground in more states than anyone else. He's also run for president before, and should know more about what it takes.
But looked at analytically, the result in Michigan could be seen as a humiliation for Mitt Romney — and even if he wins the nomination, it indicates some huge weaknesses.
Consider: Yes, Romney beat Santorum, partly by spending nearly twice as much. But add the essentially anti-Romney votes cast for Newt Gingrich, and Romney loses. Now add in the Ron Paul votes, and Romney loses by a landslide. According to unofficial final returns, Romney got 410,517 votes in Michigan. But 588,325 votes were cast against him.
And consider that even in a contest where social conservatives dominate, Santorum is something of a far-out candidate. He has equated stable gay relationships with "man-on-dog" sex. Forget abortion as a litmus test; Santorum says the U.S. Supreme Court made a mistake when it legalized contraception back in the 1960s.
He also says John F. Kennedy's famous speech on the need to keep church and state separate "makes you want to throw up." Probably few Michigan voters would agree with Santorum on contraception. Fewer still ever heard of him before a few weeks ago. So "¦ why did so many Republicans vote for him?
The answer may have everything to do with their opinion of Romney, a man who doesn't seem to inspire anything like the passion that voters felt for Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama.
Those supporting Romney told reporters they did so because "it makes sense. He has the qualifications," or said something like "he's the only one who can win in November."
That might be the case. Certainly, the rest of the primary field is loaded with baggage, from Newt Gingrich's three wives and admitted adultery to Ron Paul's suspected John Birch Society ties.
But campaigns are largely about romance. Given their choice, few men — or women — would want to date the "sensible, rational choice" their mother might pick out for them. They want to fall in love, and be swept off their feet. Voters are much the same.
Conservatives are deeply distrustful, too, of the former governor's views on social issues. They note that when Romney was running for the Senate in Massachusetts in 1994, he was pro-choice and strongly pro-gay rights. Now, he says he has changed.
But what does he really believe? Does a man really change his fundamental beliefs in late middle age?
Regardless, the hard-fought primary contest doesn't seem to be doing anything to help the eventual nominee win in November.
Back in the 1960s, when Romney was a student at Brigham Young University in Utah, other young men his age were dying in Vietnam. One of the officers in charge of that war once said "it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it." Something like that may be happening in the GOP nomination battle, where the candidates seem to be striving to outdo each other in appealing to their party's hard right wing.
Why? Those are the people who vote in primaries. Turnout is traditionally small, and skewed to the ideological extremes. In Michigan, this meant all the Republicans proudly trumpeted that they would never have bailed out the auto industry.
Trouble is, that bailout is widely perceived as the one that worked. The auto companies survived; they've paid much of the money back, and are again profitable, and even adding workers.
Bashing the bailout made little sense in Michigan, but that's what all the GOP candidates did. When the primary campaign began, Romney was nearly even with President Obama in a hypothetical November contest. Today, the polls show him 18 points behind.
November is still a long way away. But at this rate, Republicans may find the road to the White House considerably longer.
Jack Lessenberry, who teaches journalism at Wayne State University, is Michigan Radio's senior political analyst, ombudsman and writing coach for the Toledo Blade, and former foreign correspondent for and executive national editor of The Detroit News. He was named Journalist of the Year in 2002 by the Metropolitan Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.