NOVI, Mich. — One could almost hear the collective sigh of relief throughout the Suburban Collection Showcase exhibition hall here, as Mitt Romney’s supporters waited for him to claim victory in the Michigan primary Tuesday night. He had just avoided what could have been a major embarrassment, as well as a potentially fatal blow to his presidential campaign.
In winning the state of his birth and boyhood (and where his father George served as governor from 1962-69), Romney stopped a last-minute surge by leading challenger Rick Santorum and won by a margin of 42 percent to 37 percent statewide. In the twilight days of the campaign, polls showed the race a statistical tie—in large part because in a state with no party registration and where Democrats can cross over into Republican primaries and vice versa, there was a concerted effort among Democratic leaders and their allies in organized labor to vote for Santorum as a means of embarrassing front-runner Romney.
Among those openly encouraging the cross-over effort were far-left film producer, Michael Moore, veteran Democratic political consultant Joe Disano, and various United Auto Workers locals. State Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer sent out pre-primary e-mails reminding Democrats that they could vote in the GOP contest and still participate in Democratic caucuses to choose national convention delegates in May.
So tight did the race become that one day before the balloting, State Attorney General and Romney campaign chairman Bill Schuette, would not predict to HUMAN EVENTS a win by his man and would only say the race would be close. (On Tuesday, Schuette and former State GOP Chairman Rusty Hills sent out strongly-worded e-mails to Republican voters criticizing Santorum for embracing the “sneak attack” by Democrats on the GOP primary).
How Michigan became a nail-biter
Surveys by veteran Michigan GOP pollster Steve Mitchell had shown Romney gaining over Santorum in the week before the primary. The reasons for Romney’s rise, Mitchell told us
, were “his strong attacks on the Pennsylvania senator’s economic conservatism and his strong performance in their [televised] debate. Among those who consider themselves economic conservatives and tea partiers, Romney gained considerably.”
But over the weekend, the Santorum team led by Faith and Freedom Coalition President Glenn Clark decided there was a possibility of a significant upset in Michigan. The candidate, who had been focusing his efforts on nearby Ohio for the March 6 “Super Tuesday” primary, made sudden appearances in Livonia, Kalamazoo, and Delta Township. At every stop, Santorum underscored his strong pro-life and pro-marriage positions and, at one point, remarked that John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech to Houston ministers on separation of church and state “made me want to throw up.”
“Romney was trailing over the weekend, but managed to stop the bleeding by Monday,” said Mitchell. Clearly alarmed by the mounting reports of a “sneak attack” on their primary, Romney supporters from Schuette on down made a spirited effort to turn out reliable Republican voters. Santorum might also have been hurt by admission of his campaign team in Michigan that it was making robocalls to reliable Democrats reminding them that could vote for him in the Republican primary.
Largely because of a strong get-out-the vote effort by the Romney team and a near full-time effort by the candidate in his home state, Romney dodged the bullet. Where he and his campaign go from here and whether he wraps up the nomination or is in a drawnout battle will be one of the major political stories of 2012.