Commerce Township — Mitt Romney returned to his birth state Friday and rallied supporters with a remark that some took as a nod to the so-called "birthers" in the Republican Party who question the citizenship of President Barack Obama.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee told the more than 9,100 cheering supporters at the Long Family Orchard Farm & Cider Mill that his wife, Ann, was born at Henry Ford Hospital and he arrived at Harper Hospital in Detroit.
"No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate," Romney said to cheers. "They know that this is the place that we were born and raised."
The remarks came during his first trip to Michigan with his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and just days before the start of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Obama released his long-form birth certificate in 2011 after conspiracy theorists, perpetuated by calls from the likes of New York financier Donald Trump, doubted whether he was a U.S. citizen and therefore not eligible to be president.
Hawaii officials have repeatedly vouched for Obama's birth in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961.
Democrats jumped on the remarks as Romney attaching himself to the extreme elements of his party, especially in light of this week's GOP platform that aims to ban all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. It's a platform adopted by the party previously, though Romney has said he believes in such exceptions.
"He's now become a birther," Michigan Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer said. "We got another step to the right by Mitt Romney."
Kelsey Knight, a Romney spokeswoman, said Romney's birth certificate remarks were meant to connect to the hometown audience and not to question the president's citizenship. Romney "knows (Obama) has a birth certificate," she said. "He wouldn't be president if he didn't have one."
But several supporters said they cheered because Romney spoke to their doubts. "I still have questions" about Obama's citizenship, said Billee Pike of Brighton.
"I think that will always be a controversy because it took so long to release the (birth certificate). People are still suspicious."
The remarks come a day after Romney said big businesses in the U.S. are "doing fine" in part because they get advantages from offshore tax havens.
"Big business is doing fine in many places," Romney said during a campaign fundraiser Thursday in suburban Minneapolis. "They get the loans they need, they can deal with all the regulation. They know how to find ways to get through the tax code, save money by putting various things in the places where there are low tax havens around the world for their businesses."
The comments echo similar assertions by Obama that Romney has criticized. They're also a reminder that the GOP candidate has kept some of his personal fortune in low tax foreign accounts.
Obama said earlier this summer that the "private sector is doing fine." Romney and other Republicans pounced on the comments.
On Friday, the presidential candidate was welcomed with cheers of "Romney, Romney!" led by his niece, Ronna Romney McDaniel of Northville.
Michigan hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.
By 11:30 a.m. at least three elderly attendees had passed out in the heat. At noon, Romney fired up the crowd by digging into Obama's weak spot — the economy. Romney asked if they wanted four more years of "8 percent unemployment," "trillion-dollar deficits" and "government becoming more and more intrusive in your lives and businesses."
"No!" they yelled back.
"I want to get America on an entirely different track — a track of greatness and strength and vitality and prosperity," Romney said. "And I know how to do it."
Romney reiterated campaign themes of repealing Obama's health care overhaul, cutting deficits, expanding trade, reducing the size of government and becoming energy independent. The candidate, his wife and running mate also emphasized their connection to Michigan.
Ann Romney, who was the candidate's high school sweetheart at Cranbrook School in nearby Bloomfield Hills, got choked up when she saw the sea of supporters.
"It's amazing that the people of Michigan have not forgotten the promise of America," said Ann Romney, who will speak about the family's roots at the convention.
"We are going to make Michigan proud and George Romney proud," she said.
George Romney was born in a Mormon colony in Mexico to American parents and faced questions about his eligibility when he ran for president in 1968. He led American Motors Corp. and served as Michigan's governor in the 1960s.
Many in the crowd were thrilled to get a first glimpse of Ryan, who has championed the GOP budget plan to trim deficits and revamp Medicare.
"I think I like Ryan better than I like Romney," said Robert Shelvick, 82, of Rochester Hills. "He's more conservative. He knows what he believes, I'm not sure if Romney does."
Ryan announced it was great to be back "in Big Ten country."
He pledged that a Romney-Ryan administration will make tough choices necessary for the next generation and not for the next election.
"You've got the sand and we have the rocks, but we all come from the same place," Ryan said.
John DeVries, 53, of White Lake Township said he was impressed with his first glimpse at the ticket. He said he believes in less government, less taxes and more fiscal responsibility. The candidates' emphasis on their Michigan connections didn't matter much to the airline pilot.
"I'm more interested in the values than where someone is from," DeVries said. "And they seem to have the values I would appreciate."
Ryan was expected at a fundraiser Friday evening at Oakland Hills Country Club.
Staff Writers David Shepardson, Lauren Abdel-Razzaq and Tony Briscoe and Associated Press contributed.