ALBION, Michigan – It’s easy to think of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum as a study in contrasts – cold and hot, technocratic and theocratic, blue-blooded and blue-collared. And on this final, frenzied day of campaigning in Michigan, it was easy to think of the two men traveling in opposite directions, geographically and ideologically.

Romney was moving west to east, which in Michigan Republican politics means conservative to moderate. His first event was just outside of Grand Rapids – home of Amway and large numbers of religious conservatives, many of them Dutch-American. By nightfall, Romney had made his way back to Royal Oak, a hip Detroit suburb not far from his childhood home. Santorum started his day in Livonia, a middle class Detroit suburb of office buildings and strip shopping malls. Then it was off to Lansing, the centrally located state capital, and finally onto Grand Rapids, not far from where Romney had been about twelve hours before.

Since I’d seen Santorum on Sunday night, I decided to catch Romney during a daytime rally at a small industrial plant in Albion, about halfway across the state. And in many ways his event really was different than Santorum's. Santorum had been passionate, even fiery. Romney tried to be passionate but just ended up being loud. On Sunday, Santorum had dwelled on culture and community, railing against the encroachment of secularism and immorality on American life. But (as Romney supporters were quick to point out) he barely mentioned jobs. Romney, on the other hand, talked mainly about the economy and how his experience in the private sector made him uniquely qualified to reduce budget deficits. "In a business like this, and in every other business I know, you have have to balance your budget or you go out of business," Romney said.

And yet … are the two candidates really so different? On the issues, particularly domestic policy, they no longer seem to be. Both have called for radical downsizing of government, with Santorum seeking to cap federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product and Romney seeking to cap it at 20 percent. Either cap, if enacted, would decimate key federal programs and all but certainly require undermining cherished social welfare programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Both want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, effectively taking health insurance away from 30 million people. Both have called for reducing taxes in ways that will disproportionately favor the wealthy. Both promise the deficit will come down  – and both have sketched out fiscal plans that would, according to a recent report from the Committee on a Responsible Federal Budget, make the deficit go up.

Conservatives may think such similarities are superficial: Where liberals like me see only gradations, they may see defining contrasts. And I can see that argument, particularly when it comes to cultural issues. On abortion and gay rights, for example, Romney’s record suggests that, deep down inside, he’s a lot less conservative than Santorum. But at this point it’s difficult to know who the real Romney is – or whether, as Peter Suderman has wondered, whether a “real” Romney even exists anymore. And as many observers have noted, the political pressures on Romney would make further acts of apostasy difficult.

Nobody knows who’s going to win on Tuesday. In just the last ten days, the polls have shifted three times – to Santorum, then to Romney, and now, maybe, back to Santorum. How the eventual outcome affects the rest of the Republican race, with Super Tuesday just a week away, is well beyond my fortune-telling abilities. But already one thing seems clear: The Republican Party is going to nominate a candidate who has embraced positions that are not just to the right of center but also to the right of what Republicans were saying, just four years ago.