Romney should win Michigan, but don't be surprised by surprises

With hours to go before the polls open in Michigan, signs are growing that Mitt Romney will win in the state in which he was born and where his father was governor for three terms.  But where surveys show Water Wonderland voters leaning to Romney and momentum fading for leading opponent Rick Santorum, Romney’s lead is by a relatively slim margin.

And given that Michigan has no party registration and a history of voters aligned with one major party voting in the primary, the state has had a history of surprising the nation with the results of its presidential contests: from George Wallace’s stunning victory in the Democratic primary back in 1972 (with some crossover help from Michigan Republicans) to John McCain’s unexpected defeat of favorite George W. Bush (with crossover help from Democrats, especially union members who wanted to send a jolt to then-Governor and top Bushman John Engler).

So here are some questions remaining before the high-stakes vote in Michigan on February 28th:

Why has the momentum shifted to Romney after Santorum led in polls for a while?

Steve Mitchell, Michigan’s top Republican pollster, told HUMAN EVENTS that his just-completed survey among likely primary voters shows Romney leading Santorum by a margin of 36 percent to 33 percent.  He added that he “expects that margin to increase by Tuesday.”

As close as these figures appear, Mitchell noted, they are a dramatic shift from his previous survey on Valentine’s Day, in which Santorum led Romney by nine percentage points statewide (34 percent to 25 percent).  This strong shift to Romney is largely the result of the strong attacks on Santorum’s votes on fiscal measures by Romney backers (notably his “Super PAC”) and the former Massachusetts governor’s strong performance in their last televised debate, he feels.

“Romney needed to persuade tea party supporters, whom 62% of likely primary voters identify with, evangelical conservatives [which 55% of likely primary voters style themselves as], as those who consider themselves ‘very conservative [38 percent],’” said Mitchell, “He has taken the lead among tea party supporters and other fiscal conservatives and clearly driven a wedge between those groups and Santorum.  And he is nearly tied with Santorum among evangelical conservatives and coming up among those who say they are ‘very conservative.’

Among those who watched the last debate, Mitchell’s survey found that Romney was considered the winner by 33 percent and Santorum only 13 percent.

Is there evidence of a strong Democratic cross-over for Santorum?

Bob King, United Auto Workers president, has been quiet on encouraging Democrats to switch and fight for Santorum—whom he and his fellow union bosses presumably consider a weaker opponent to President Obama than Romney.  HUMAN EVENTS had reports of a union local in Ingham County (Lansing) handing out handbills encouraging members to “support Obama, vote for Santorum” but so far, there is no evidence of a major cross-over orchestration.

“It’s different from 2000,” recalled pollster Mitchell, “John McCain at the time was more moderate and easier for Democrats to vote for.  And, of course, the unions hated [Gov.] Engler and made no secret they were going to vote for McCain to embarrass him because he was so strongly for Bush.  But all the Republicans this time are conservative and not easy for Democrats to vote for.  And you don’t have a ‘hate figure’ like Engler to motivate them.  So I just don’t see it.”

What about Gingrich and Paul?

Gingrich has the support of former Republican National Committeeman Chuck Yob, who was initially a backer of former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.  Paul is backed by freshman Rep. Justin Amash.  But neither has attempted to build an organization in the state or wage a campaign. But Paul can never be dismissed: as nervous as Romney operatives get about a Democratic crossover for Santorum, one can never rule out the scenario of anti-war activists, college students in Ann Arbor, and even union members crossing over for Ron Paul.  Keep an eye on it.

Would a loss in Michigan be devastating to Romney?

Absolutely.  At virtually every stop, he invokes his birth and upbringing in the state and the names of his still-loved parents, Gov. George Romney and Lenore Romney (the 1970 Republican Senate nominee).  In addition, from State Attorney General Bill Schuette (who is Romney’s state campaign chairman) on down, virtually all the Republican elected officials and party leaders have weighed in for Romney. (Santorum’s only known campaign leader in the state is longtime social issues’ conservative leader Glenn Clark).

But while a loss would be devastating, it would not kill the Romney campaign.  His handlers would no doubt try to find evidence of cross-over voting as the force behind a Santorum win and explain it that way.  And, as top Romney strategist Ron Kaufman has told us several times, “there is only one candidate prepared to campaign in all fifty states and that is Mitt Romney.”

But a loss in Michigan obviously won’t help Romney’s momentum.


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