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What Would George Do?

There's a remarkable bit in the Real Romney, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman's new biography of Mitt Romney, where they describe George Romney starting his campaign for president in 1967, and making clear that he did not share his church's less than enlightened views on race: "Appearing in North Carolina, he took on segregationists who opposed civil rights measures on the grounds of states' rights, saying, 'As far as I'm concerned, states have no rights. Only people have rights...obstructionism masquerading as states' rights is the height of folly.'"

When I read that, I couldn't help but think back to the scene of Mitt Romney campaigning in South Carolina last month, where he would stand and grin next to the state's governor and his top supporter in the state, Nikki Haley, as she told crowds that Romney, unlike President Obama, would let South Carolina implement its stringent new voter ID law, which the Obama administration is challenging as racially discriminatory. “President Romney [will say] that’s our right,” Haley told a crowd in Greenville on the night before the primary.

And it's hard not to think back to George Romney now that Mitt Romney (or rather, the SuperPAC supporting him) is once again attacking Rick Santorum for having supported an expansion of voting rights for felons who have served their sentence. The SuperPAC's new ad, which will run in heavy rotation in Michigan, Arizona and Ohio, concludes by declaring that Santorum "joined Hillary Clinton to let convicted felons vote." 

This is a recycled line -- the SuperPAC made a similar attack against Santorum in South Carolina, which prompted the striking moment in a debate there where Santorum made a full-throated argument on behalf of the voting rights of ex-convicts, going so far as to note that it was a "huge deal in the African-American community": "I would ask Governor Romney, do you believe people who have -- who were felons, who served their time, who have extended -- exhausted their parole and probation, should they be given the right to vote?" The challenge thoroughly discombobulated Romney. But it has apparently not stopped his SuperPAC from going back to the well again in Michigan.

Michigan has had a not-always easy history of race relations, so the ad could resonate with some GOP primary voters. Though the state, to its credit, has also had progressive moments on race -- such as when its governor walked out of the 1964 national Republican convention over the blocking of a civil rights plank in the party platform, and later held a march in Detroit in support of the march Martin Luther King, Jr. was leading in Selma.

That governor, of course, was George Romney -- the man whose model his son says he seeks to follow in every instance.

follow me on Twitter@AlecMacGillis