Former Massachusetts governor and Michigan-native Mitt Romney escaped what could have been a mortal wounding in the state where his father served as car manufacturing executive and governor, triumphing over ex-Pennsylvania US Senator Rick Santorum.
The Romney Michigan effort was powered with money, organization, endorsements and roots against an opponent with little connection to the state and was outspent 2-1. And for his trouble, Romney sneaks out with a plurality of 41% and a margin of less than 4 points.
That said, a loss in Michigan could have led to a collapse of his campaign. Bundled with a strong win in Arizona and a likely victory in Wyoming, Romney has preserved his candidacy reclaimed his front-runner status.
And most significantly, Romney’s Michigan win will end talk of the emergence of an anti-Santorum late entry.
The likelihood of the Republican nominee being either Romney or Santorum increased substantially on Tuesday night.
The Jeb Bush-Mitch Daniels-Chris Christie talk will go into hibernation if not a coma. If Romney collapses later on in the primary schedule, it will be after the point of no return for qualifying for other states.
The stakes were raised very high for Romney in Michigan with a two percent swing being the difference between political salvation and damnation. Yet the high-wire act proved to be beneficial. While a marginal win in his home state would ordinarily be considered a defeat, because the media put so many of Romney’s credibility chips on the table, the results will seem more impressive than they would ordinarily be interpreted.
The Romney camp played the expectations game masterfully in Michigan and won big dividends, especially when Santorum’s earlier absurd nose-bleed high poll numbers are factored into the discussion.
Romney’s poll-deficit rally will overshadow his shaky plurality as the story of the evening.
The evening was no doubt disappointing but the news was not all bad for Santorum.
First the social conservative is still introducing himself to the American public. Santorum needs to take this time to fine-tune his candidacy, specifically avoiding making controversial remarks that consume the media oxygen he needs to get out his message.
Secondly, Santorum walks out of Michigan with delegates, overtaking former US House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich for second in the delegate total (or more accurately the consensus estimated delegate total).
Third and most importantly, Santorum further established himself as the conservative alternative to Romney, putting greater distance between himself and Gingrich, who Santorum needs out of the picture after Super Tuesday and Louisiana on March 24th at the absolute latest.
Fourth, Santorum can train his guns fully on Romney in general (and Gingrich in certain states) and no longer be distracted by confronting a consensus establishment candidate “to be named later” popping up down the line. Rather than being measured up against an “ideal hypothetical” opponent, Santorum now only needs to look better than Romney.
Other Thoughts on the State of the Election
Next on the Schedule- After dangling near political oblivion, Romney now stands on the precipice of strategically wrapping up the party nomination before April and he can advance that cause by scoring big on Super Tuesday.
The weekend before Super Tuesday will be the Washington State caucuses, which could give Romney added momentum, provide Texas Congresssman Ron Paul his maiden victory, salvage Gingrich’s floundering candidacy or salve Santorum’s expectations bruising.
The Winner-Take-All Myth- While Florida and Arizona have declared themselves winner take all, the national Republican Party’s rules say otherwise. Being hit with the 50% penalty for going early does not provide state parties with immunity to distribute their delegates as they see fit. The national media have largely ignored the possibility of those states being compelled to allocate delegates proportionately, which would lower Romney’s current delegate lead.
Debates Matter- It could not be said that the debates were irrelevant during a 2012 Republican presidential nomination process full of twists and turns. Santorum did not perform well in the debate that preceded the Michigan and Arizona primaries and his sudden and pronounced drop in the polls reflected it. Santorum won’t have the opportunity for a “do over” as he, Romney and Paul dropped out of a pre-Super Tuesday debate in Atlanta, to Gingrich’s understandable dismay.
Democrat Outreach in Michigan- Romney decried in the whiniest tone possible how disgusted he was by Santorum’s attempt to attract Democrats to vote in Michigan’s GOP presidential primary. However Santorum’s gambit was not in any way novel. Ronald Reagan tried to do the same in 1976 against President Gerald Ford.
Calling It Early- I called the election for Romney while Santorum still had a lead. Why? Because too much of the rural areas had come in early and too much of Wayne and Oakland’s more populated counties were still outstanding. Granted bloggers can be more cavalier with such prognostications.