Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won a big victory last night in the Michigan primary, besting the surging Senator from Arizona, John McCain and Iowa’s victor former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Governor Romney got himself a second, but more significant, gold medal and this gold may have significant political value as the GOP nomination battle heads south. With GOP primary voters uniting behind Romney in Michigan, the question is whether he can now translate that into much needed momentum in South Carolina and Florida.
Romney’s win raises the question as to how much momentum matters in the 2008 primaries. It certainly keeps a campaign in the news, but has yet to translate into consecutive victories. Huckabee’s Iowa momentum was stopped by McCain in New Hampshire, while Michigan Republicans took some of the steam out of the McCain engine as the Senator heads to South Carolina, a state that stopped his surging campaign in 2000.
What is significant about Romney victory is the way it transformed his campaign from a message largely trying to piggyback off of the “change” buzz that pundits seized on after Iowa and through New Hampshire. Romney took a positive economic strength message to Michigan, while Senator McCain was struggling to communicate with working folks in a state that has seen jobs go overseas and an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent.
While Governor Romney was connecting with Michigan voters and their economic situation, Senator McCain seemed to be at a loss in a state where the economy is suffering and the war is not top of mind. This is a message to all Republican candidates that we cannot afford to over-position as solely a war on terror party in the general election.
While campaigning as the party of a strong national defense is important, the economy and cultural impacting issues are going to be on the minds of many voters. It is vital that the Republican nominee be able to articulate a genuine and uplifting across the board conservative policy agenda that is unabashedly rooted in a limited government, pro-family, and strong national defense policy message.
Most importantly, Michigan primary results demonstrate that the fat lady isn’t even warming up. We continue to have a wide open race with momentum shifting every week. With Giuliani out of money and likely not able to compete as fiercely as he expected on February 5, Romney has the Big Mo, the organization and the financial resources to get his message out loud and clear to Republicans voting in Florida and on the 20-state primary some are calling “Tsunami Tuesday.” Senator McCain will not be able to rely upon Independent voters as he has in New Hampshire and Michigan.
It was expected that Governor Huckabee would do better given Michigan has a large pool of evangelical Christian voters, but Romney’s home state appeal and pro-family economic message was too much for the Huckabee camp to overcome. While Huckabee finished a lagging third in Michigan, his main focus is a repeat of Iowa in South Carolina, where there are large pockets of evangelical voters. However, South Carolina has the tendency to be more of a country club Republican state that could help Romney, given his Michigan victory and his broad based conservative message. But South Carolina also has a large veteran’s population that could bolster McCain. And so, as much as things change, they continue to stay the same. The race goes to the south with no clear frontrunner and a candidate claiming he is the southern man.
Senator Fred Thompson is campaigning as the conservative southerner, the country gentlemen candidate with a conservative edge that many of his supporters wish he had displayed a bit earlier. He has rolled up his sleeves and is campaigning hard in South Carolina where, like Romney in Michigan, he has some local appeal.
Mayor Giuliani’s campaign, put simply, is not just bleeding but is starting to hemorrhage. Once the presumptive front runner, and trying to position as a strong leader in the war on terror, Giuliani continues to lose badly, bested for a third consecutive time by the populist, constitutionalist candidacy of the always on message Ron Paul. Reports this week that the Giuliani campaign has stopped paying staff and is hard pressed for money seems to blow a huge hole right through his Gator strategy. Mayor Giuliani’s campaign strategy has been to win momentum out of Florida, and husband resources to get his message out broadly throughout the February 5 states.
If Giuliani is out of money and will not be able to ride the airwaves and much momentum to numerous victories on February 5, the Gator may get caught up in the Tsunami. This scenario helps Romney given he has some momentum now and the financial resources to reach voters in key Super Tuesday states.
The battle goes south and we are a long way from home.