A day earlier, Rudy Giuliani made his own standard pitch as the four top Republican presidential hopefuls and a few underdogs descended on a picturesque island in Lake Huron to cozy up to 1,500 activists from this Midwestern state. It just became an early player in the nomination race by leapfrogging other states to move its primaries to Jan. 15. The race in Michigan is wide open, a microcosm of the national picture of the Republican nomination race four months before voting begins. There is no clear front-runner. Giuliani has an edge in national popularity polls. Thompson, in the race just two weeks, is giving chase. McCain is looking for momentum. Romney ranks behind them in national surveys, but leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, among the first states to vote. Trying to stand out from the crowded field, Romney is bluntly confronting problems plaguing the GOP in his new stump speech, fresh television ads and an open letter to party leaders. He is seeking to tap into anger among Republicans about the country’s direction even as one of their own, President George W. Bush, sits in the White House. In a blistering critique of Republicans, Romney argued that Republicans share the blame with Democrats for the nation’s woes. He bemoaned excessive spending, insecure borders and ethical lapses. “When Republicans act like Democrats, America loses,” he said. Even as he sought to distance himself from Bush, Romney gave him limited credit for keeping the United States safe and “restoring personal integrity and dignity to the White House.” But otherwise Romney rattled off a slew of problems with the government, saying, for example, that the post-Hurricane Katrina cleanup “didn’t look like Republicans were in charge.” Unlike Giuliani’s rambunctious reception the night before, Romney got only scattered and infrequent applause from an intently listening audience as he gave his stark assessment about the GOP’s woes. Only when he returned to his usual right-flank pitch – restoring family values, shrinking government and the like – did the audience come alive. Still, Romney’s views did resonate with at least some Republicans. “Things that Republicans normally stand for have been pushed to the side, and I think Mitt wants to get us back on track,” said Jim Gerchow, 61, a small-business owner from Sturgis, Mich., who so far isn’t backing a candidate. McCain made a similar argument for change last November as he began his campaign and just after Republicans sustained electoral losses up and down the ballot. Since then, and for a host of reasons, he watched his campaign falter and has shifted his focus. In his remarks Saturday, McCain sought to underscore the security threats the United States faces and likened himself – and these times – to a conservative behemoth and world dangers in the 1980s. “Today, the challenges are at least as severe as they were when Ronald Reagan stood tall,” he said. “And, today, the differences between Republicans and Democrats on national security are every bit as they were 30 years ago.” He assailed the national security positions of leading Democratic presidential candidates. He also renewed his call for resolve in Iraq and drew heavy applause throughout – and a standing ovation – from the friendly crowd. “To concede defeat – as many leading Democrats now advocate – would strengthen al-Qaida, empower Iran and other hostile powers in the Middle East, unleash a full-scale civil war in Iraq that could quite possibly provoke genocide there, and destabilize the entire region,” McCain said. Thompson, for his part, talked heavily about his biography, emphasized his commitment to federalism and renewed his call for a return to so-called first principles of fiscal restraint, free markets, personal liberties, and smaller government.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. – Courting party faithful Saturday, Republican Mitt Romney promised to return a wayward GOP to its core principles while rival John McCain portrayed himself as the most qualified to take charge of the country amid dangerous times ahead. “Change must begin with us,” Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, told activists as he challenged a GOP reeling from excessive spending and embarrassing scandals to “put our own house in order.” Taking a broader view, McCain, the Arizona senator, lamented “a perilous time for our party but, far more important, a perilous time for our country” as he gave a sobering assessment of worldwide threats. Fred Thompson, the actor-politician, gave his usual low-key stump speech filled with general conservative themes.