Commentary Magazine


If Obama Loses Michigan, Can He Win?

Panicky supporters of President Obama got another reason to reach for the smelling salts yesterday with the release of a new survey of Michigan voters by the Democrat polling firm of Foster McCollum White and Associates/Baydoun Consulting. The poll showed the president falling into a virtual dead heat with Mitt Romney with a 47-46 percentage point lead. While as recently as last month, Obama was shown as having a 14-point lead, the Foster/Baydoun poll more or less confirms the findings of a Detroit Free Press poll that gave Romney a one-point lead.

Democrats have long counted on Michigan as a solid blue state that would inevitably fall into the president’s column in November. But as it must now be classified as a toss-up where native son Mitt Romney has the momentum, the question must be asked whether the president can win without it. The answer is a qualified yes. It is easy to compile a map that would give either one a victory without its 16 electoral votes. Nevertheless, it is much harder to imagine Obama getting to the magic total of 270 electoral votes than Romney without Michigan in his pocket. Barack Obama can win without Michigan, but it is hard to imagine him losing it without also going down in neighboring Ohio and Wisconsin. That is a scenario that means Democratic defeat.

President Obama won in 2008 not just by winning blue states but by stealing a number of red ones such as Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia. The odds of him repeating that feat are not very good at the moment. Polls have shown Indiana probably to be a lost cause for the Democrats and North Carolina slipping away, too. But the recent dismal economic news is putting states like Michigan and Wisconsin into play as well. While Obama can lose the states that turned a narrow victory into a cakewalk four years ago, the political facts of life for Democrats is that they cannot lose the rust belt and hope to prevail.

What makes this especially problematic is that the Obama camp assumed Romney’s opposition to the General Motors bailout along with the huge Democratic registration advantage in the state would make it impossible for them to lose Michigan. Though they knew all along that Ohio would be a coin flip and that the resurgence of the GOP in Wisconsin under Scott Walker would make it close, there was no reason to doubt that working-class Michigan would reject the wealthy Romney.

Along with a raft of other state polls, the Michigan numbers show that Democrats clearly underestimated Romney’s ability to recover from the beating he took in the GOP primaries and that the early attacks on him from the Obama campaign as a radical right-winger haven’t worked. But this poor showing in a state he shouldn’t have to fight so hard for tells us a lot more about President Obama’s shortcomings.