Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michigan Primary

Michigan Was Tight Race, But a Tie?

I get that Michigan was a tight race, but come on now:

“You can only look at Michigan and move it from a win for Mitt Romney to a tie race,” [Santorum adviser John] Brabender said on a conference call with reporters. “If we can do this well in Romney’s home state we clearly think this bodes well for Super Tuesday states.”

The latest estimates from CNN showed both candidates with 15 Wolverine State delegates, while Romney is ahead in the popular vote with 41 percent to Santorum’s 38 percent. That leaves none of the 30 total Michigan delegates still in play.

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I get that Michigan was a tight race, but come on now:

“You can only look at Michigan and move it from a win for Mitt Romney to a tie race,” [Santorum adviser John] Brabender said on a conference call with reporters. “If we can do this well in Romney’s home state we clearly think this bodes well for Super Tuesday states.”

The latest estimates from CNN showed both candidates with 15 Wolverine State delegates, while Romney is ahead in the popular vote with 41 percent to Santorum’s 38 percent. That leaves none of the 30 total Michigan delegates still in play.

Mitt Romney’s three-percent victory isn’t nothing, considering races have been called on far, far lower margins this primary season. Should Romney have done better? Yes. Did he fail to land a knock-out on Santorum? Sure. But to call the results a “tie” or say they’re a disaster for Romney is a classless bit of revisionism you normally wouldn’t expect from the Santorum campaign.

Beyond that, the exit polls also suggest that Operation Hilarity may have been the only thing that saved Santorum from a massive loss. As John wrote in his New York Post column yesterday:

The fact that Romney didn’t win by a landslide in Michigan was apparently the result, in whole or in part, of mischievous Democratic voters trying to weaken him. Exit polls suggest that those voters added as much as 3.5 percentage points to Santorum’s total.

Santorum can find plenty of issues about which to attack Romney. But he’s not going to convince anyone that a three-point loss is actually a tie.

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Romney’s Big Step to the Nomination

Reviewing the exit poll data from last night’s primaries in Arizona and Michigan – which National Journal’s Ron Brownstein does with typical care and insight — it appears as if several things happened. Mitt Romney did well with demographic groups with which he’s done well in the past: voters who are white collar, upper income, college educated, non-evangelical Christians and somewhat conservative/moderate. For example, Romney beat Rick Santorum by roughly 20 percentage points in Oakland County, a white collar suburb outside of Detroit. Among self-identified Republicans in Michigan, Romney beat Santorum by an impressive 13 points (49 percent v. 36 percent).

Rick Santorum, on the other hand, did well, though not great, with people who consider themselves very conservative and who identify themselves as evangelical Christians. But where Santorum was hurt the most was with blue collar voters. He lost to Romney in Macomb County, a white working class suburb outside of Detroit, and barely won in Genesse Country, which incorporates the blue collar city of Flint. In Michigan, Santorum lost to Romney among Catholics (45 v. 37) and women (42 v. 37, including every category of women polled, including working women, single women, and married women). In Arizona in particular, but also in Michigan, Santorum simply was not able to cobble together a coalition that went much beyond the core of the GOP base.

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Reviewing the exit poll data from last night’s primaries in Arizona and Michigan – which National Journal’s Ron Brownstein does with typical care and insight — it appears as if several things happened. Mitt Romney did well with demographic groups with which he’s done well in the past: voters who are white collar, upper income, college educated, non-evangelical Christians and somewhat conservative/moderate. For example, Romney beat Rick Santorum by roughly 20 percentage points in Oakland County, a white collar suburb outside of Detroit. Among self-identified Republicans in Michigan, Romney beat Santorum by an impressive 13 points (49 percent v. 36 percent).

Rick Santorum, on the other hand, did well, though not great, with people who consider themselves very conservative and who identify themselves as evangelical Christians. But where Santorum was hurt the most was with blue collar voters. He lost to Romney in Macomb County, a white working class suburb outside of Detroit, and barely won in Genesse Country, which incorporates the blue collar city of Flint. In Michigan, Santorum lost to Romney among Catholics (45 v. 37) and women (42 v. 37, including every category of women polled, including working women, single women, and married women). In Arizona in particular, but also in Michigan, Santorum simply was not able to cobble together a coalition that went much beyond the core of the GOP base.

The result of this is that Romney has taken another important (if difficult) step to the nomination. Brownstein writes that while turning points have come and gone in this turbulent GOP race, “Mitt Romney’s narrow victory in Tuesday’s Michigan primary may represent a Battle of the Bulge moment in which he has tipped the balance of the fight by demonstrating the ability to amass a slightly broader coalition than his principal rival, Rick Santorum.”

If so, Santorum may live to regret his blistering attack on John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association (the one that almost caused Santorum to vomit) and his widely perceived assault on a college education (accusing President Obama of being a “snob” for encouraging people to go to college). At the most important moment in Santorum’s run for the presidency, when Republicans were willing to give him a fresh second look, he confirmed many of the impressions his critics have of him – that he’s a moralizing figure who sets people on edge rather than puts them at ease. It’s a shame, because Santorum is a man of many impressive parts. But one cannot also help but think the former Pennsylvania senator, who is nothing if not authentic, spoke what was in his heart.

A man like Santorum can play a valuable role in a society and a political movement. Few people in American public life are as willing as Santorum to tether political arguments to moral truths. But on the biggest stage of his life, with a chance for the nomination within his grasp, he simply wasn’t able to summon forth rhetoric that conveyed both moral seriousness and a spirit of grace and winsomeness.

The final word on this part of the contest goes to Romney, who said he didn’t win by a lot, but he won by enough.

 

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Santorum Misses His Chance as Romney Dodges Bullet in Michigan

On a night in which he could have lost the presidential nomination, Mitt Romney survived the worst crisis of his campaign by sweeping both the Arizona and Michigan primaries. With polls showing his native Michigan being too close to call, Romney’s 41-38 percentage point win was not impressive, but Rick Santorum lost his one golden opportunity to demolish the frontrunner. Santorum can claim a moral victory of sorts because he managed to come so close to winning in a state in which few gave him a chance several weeks ago.

But Romney’s Michigan win combined with a big victory in Arizona denied his rival the chance to alter the dynamics of the race. A Santorum win in Michigan would have permanently demolished the idea that Romney was the inevitable nominee. Slim though Romney’s margin was, two more states in his column make it highly unlikely anyone else can take the nomination from him.

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On a night in which he could have lost the presidential nomination, Mitt Romney survived the worst crisis of his campaign by sweeping both the Arizona and Michigan primaries. With polls showing his native Michigan being too close to call, Romney’s 41-38 percentage point win was not impressive, but Rick Santorum lost his one golden opportunity to demolish the frontrunner. Santorum can claim a moral victory of sorts because he managed to come so close to winning in a state in which few gave him a chance several weeks ago.

But Romney’s Michigan win combined with a big victory in Arizona denied his rival the chance to alter the dynamics of the race. A Santorum win in Michigan would have permanently demolished the idea that Romney was the inevitable nominee. Slim though Romney’s margin was, two more states in his column make it highly unlikely anyone else can take the nomination from him.

The Romney win was in no small measure due to Santorum’s gaffes on John F. Kennedy and college attendance as well as the unfortunate focus on contraception that highlighted the Pennsylvania’s unpopular views on the subject.  These unforced errors demonstrated Santorum’s poor political judgment and his predilection for outlandish ideology-driven statements. The Super Tuesday primaries and in particular Ohio represent one more big chance for Santorum. But he’ll never have a better opportunity to derail Romney than the one he has just blown in Michigan.

Romney still faces a long, hard slog in the coming months, as the GOP’s delegate allocation rules will prevent him from clinching the nomination for months. That will undermine his chances of winning in November. His inability to close the deal with conservatives and the nasty tone to the Republican race will also make it hard for him to unite his party. Yet, he will wake up on Wednesday firmly in control of the race after spending most of February on the defensive and looking up at Santorum in the national tracking polls.

The battle for the nomination has damaged Romney but if, as seems likely now, he eventually prevails, he will have time to recover before the general election campaign begins. At that point he will be at the mercy of the fates as the economy and possible foreign policy disasters such as Iran will ultimately decide who wins in November. But in order to get to that point, he had to win tonight. Having done so, he can breathe a sigh of relief and move on to the next challenge.

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Is Santorum’s Chance Slipping Away?

As soon as the polls closed in Arizona tonight, the networks declared Mitt Romney the winner of the state’s Republican primary. The state’s winner-take-all format will ensure that all of Arizona’s 29 delegates go to Romney, which makes it a not inconsiderable prize. Romney’s decisive advantage there makes it an impressive win but unfortunately for him, his Arizona triumph won’t mean much if he can’t hold onto the slim lead he currently holds in Michigan.

Michigan remains the true test tonight and a Santorum win there will be a devastating blow to the frontrunner. Santorum’s camp will, not without some justice, proclaim even a close loss there as a moral victory for their candidate. But if Romney escapes his native state with a victory of any kind, it will be a lost opportunity for Santorum. An upset in Michigan is his best chance to knock off his rival.

As soon as the polls closed in Arizona tonight, the networks declared Mitt Romney the winner of the state’s Republican primary. The state’s winner-take-all format will ensure that all of Arizona’s 29 delegates go to Romney, which makes it a not inconsiderable prize. Romney’s decisive advantage there makes it an impressive win but unfortunately for him, his Arizona triumph won’t mean much if he can’t hold onto the slim lead he currently holds in Michigan.

Michigan remains the true test tonight and a Santorum win there will be a devastating blow to the frontrunner. Santorum’s camp will, not without some justice, proclaim even a close loss there as a moral victory for their candidate. But if Romney escapes his native state with a victory of any kind, it will be a lost opportunity for Santorum. An upset in Michigan is his best chance to knock off his rival.

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How Big is Romney’s Money Advantage?

A few minutes ago, CNN showed a graphic of how much the two leading contenders spent on television ads in Michigan. A rough breakdown shows that Mitt Romney spent $3.1 million to $2.1 million for Rick Santorum. A 3-2 edge is a clear advantage for Romney but nowhere near the big edge he had in Florida where he literally drowned Newt Gingrich in negative broadcast advertising. Of course, these figures don’t include the funds available for organizational needs or turnout, but it demonstrates that for all of the talk of Romney’s overwhelming advantage in fundraising, Santorum has demonstrated the capacity to raise enough money to compete.

This means we shouldn’t listen too much to Santorum’s complaints about Romney buying the election if he loses. At the same time, the assumption that Romney has the resources to overwhelm his opponents if the race proves to be a long, drawn-out slugfest may also be incorrect.

A few minutes ago, CNN showed a graphic of how much the two leading contenders spent on television ads in Michigan. A rough breakdown shows that Mitt Romney spent $3.1 million to $2.1 million for Rick Santorum. A 3-2 edge is a clear advantage for Romney but nowhere near the big edge he had in Florida where he literally drowned Newt Gingrich in negative broadcast advertising. Of course, these figures don’t include the funds available for organizational needs or turnout, but it demonstrates that for all of the talk of Romney’s overwhelming advantage in fundraising, Santorum has demonstrated the capacity to raise enough money to compete.

This means we shouldn’t listen too much to Santorum’s complaints about Romney buying the election if he loses. At the same time, the assumption that Romney has the resources to overwhelm his opponents if the race proves to be a long, drawn-out slugfest may also be incorrect.

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Michigan Exit Polls: Dems May Be Decisive

Earlier today we were speculating about the impact of Democrats participating in the Republican primary in Michigan. Would Democrats vote for Rick Santorum as part of a dirty trick in order to promote a less electable Republican, as Mitt Romney seemed to be claiming? Or would these crossovers be legitimate Reagan Democrats who like Santorum’s stands on social issues as well as expressing working class disdain for a swell like Romney? Or would, as Romney hopes, more moderate independents and Democrats prefer him to a candidate whose views on abortion, gays and contraception are considered extreme?

We don’t know the answer to that question but it is clear that whatever their motivation, Michigan Democrats and independents are going to have a disproportionate impact on a crucial Republican contest. The New York Times reports exit polls show that 10 percent of those voting today in Michigan are Democrats. It also says that irrespective of party affiliation, six in ten consider themselves conservative while 30 percent say they are very conservative and another thirty percent say they are moderate. In theory that is a picture of an electorate that might be more sympathetic to Santorum.

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Earlier today we were speculating about the impact of Democrats participating in the Republican primary in Michigan. Would Democrats vote for Rick Santorum as part of a dirty trick in order to promote a less electable Republican, as Mitt Romney seemed to be claiming? Or would these crossovers be legitimate Reagan Democrats who like Santorum’s stands on social issues as well as expressing working class disdain for a swell like Romney? Or would, as Romney hopes, more moderate independents and Democrats prefer him to a candidate whose views on abortion, gays and contraception are considered extreme?

We don’t know the answer to that question but it is clear that whatever their motivation, Michigan Democrats and independents are going to have a disproportionate impact on a crucial Republican contest. The New York Times reports exit polls show that 10 percent of those voting today in Michigan are Democrats. It also says that irrespective of party affiliation, six in ten consider themselves conservative while 30 percent say they are very conservative and another thirty percent say they are moderate. In theory that is a picture of an electorate that might be more sympathetic to Santorum.

The Times also raises an interesting point about the dirty trick allegation. The paper’s Alison Kopicki points out that Romney claimed to have voted in the Democratic Presidential Primary in Massachusetts in 1992. Romney, at that time an independent, has said he cast a ballot for Paul Tsongas because he was the weakest Democrat in the race which is the same thing he is accusing Democrats of doing today. He’d better hope that most of those Democrats voting today are not making an effort to help their party beat the GOP.

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Romney Says Gaffes Hurt Him

Intrade is still giving Mitt Romney a 55 percent chance of winning Michigan tonight. But imagine what those internal campaign polls look like if Romney’s holding a press conference like this the day of the primary:

The morning after confidently declaring he would win Michigan’s primary, on Tuesday Mitt Romney acknowledged a series of gaffes had damaged his effort and downplayed expectations for the voting results in the state where he was born. …

When pressed by reporters, Romney acknowledged he had hurt his campaign with a series of comments in which he seemed to casually flaunt his wealth. Over the past several days, Romney mentioned his wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs” and told an Associated Press reporter he has friends who are NASCAR team owners.

A reporter asked if these remarks had hurt him.

“Yes,” Romney said. “Next question.”

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Intrade is still giving Mitt Romney a 55 percent chance of winning Michigan tonight. But imagine what those internal campaign polls look like if Romney’s holding a press conference like this the day of the primary:

The morning after confidently declaring he would win Michigan’s primary, on Tuesday Mitt Romney acknowledged a series of gaffes had damaged his effort and downplayed expectations for the voting results in the state where he was born. …

When pressed by reporters, Romney acknowledged he had hurt his campaign with a series of comments in which he seemed to casually flaunt his wealth. Over the past several days, Romney mentioned his wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs” and told an Associated Press reporter he has friends who are NASCAR team owners.

A reporter asked if these remarks had hurt him.

“Yes,” Romney said. “Next question.”

Romney’s also setting the stage for a loss by continuing to suggest that Democratic dirty tricks would be responsible for a Santorum victory:

“I think the hardest thing about predicting what’s going to happen today is whether Senator Santorum’s effort to call Democrat households and tell them to come out and vote against Mitt Romney is going to be successful or not,” Romney told reporters at his campaign headquarters in Livonia during his first press conference in almost three weeks. “I think Republicans have to recognize there’s a real effort to kidnap our primary process.”

It’s certainly possible that high Democratic turnout could push Santorum over the top. Democrats participating in the primary are supporting Santorum over Romney, 47 percent to 10 percent, according to the latest Public Policy Polling survey. They also make up 8 percent of primary voters, a not-insignificant number.

But this was also a state Romney was expected to lock up, and he’s not going to be able to inoculate himself from criticism by blaming a loss on his recent blunders. It just so happens that Santorum’s made plenty of problematic comments himself, and somehow he’s still managed to end up neck-and-neck with Romney.

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Desperation Sets in for Romney in Michigan

After days of Mitt Romney and his advisors insisting he will win his home state of Michigan, today’s too-close-to-call polls are clearly taking a toll on his nerves. Romney lashed out at the right wing today, and again accused Rick Santorum of trying to hijack the election with dirty tricks. AP reports:

Mitt Romney says he’s struggling with the Republican Party’s right wing in Michigan because he’s unwilling to make “incendiary” comments. He also accused rival Rick Santorum of trying to “kidnap” the presidential nominating process with automated calls urging Democrats to vote in Tuesday’s primary in Michigan.

Speaking to reporters hours after the polls opened, Romney suggested his rivals are making headway with the GOP base because they are willing to say “outrageous things” that help them in the polls.

Romney says he’s not willing to light his “hair on fire” to try to earn support.

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After days of Mitt Romney and his advisors insisting he will win his home state of Michigan, today’s too-close-to-call polls are clearly taking a toll on his nerves. Romney lashed out at the right wing today, and again accused Rick Santorum of trying to hijack the election with dirty tricks. AP reports:

Mitt Romney says he’s struggling with the Republican Party’s right wing in Michigan because he’s unwilling to make “incendiary” comments. He also accused rival Rick Santorum of trying to “kidnap” the presidential nominating process with automated calls urging Democrats to vote in Tuesday’s primary in Michigan.

Speaking to reporters hours after the polls opened, Romney suggested his rivals are making headway with the GOP base because they are willing to say “outrageous things” that help them in the polls.

Romney says he’s not willing to light his “hair on fire” to try to earn support.

However you feel about Santorum’s robocall outreach to Democratic voters, Romney’s comments scream desperation. He needs to dial it back a notch. If there was any mistake his campaign made during the past week, it was making unequivocal statements about Romney’s certain victory in Michigan. But there’s nothing he can do to fix that at this point.

Unless, of course, Romney’s indignant tone isn’t a sign he’s gone into panic mode, but instead a sign that he’s been reading David Brooks this morning. According to Brooks, the real problem with RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) is they shrink from a fight with the right-wingers and pretend to be more conservative than they really are in order to get elected:

Leaders of a party are supposed to educate the party, to police against its worst indulgences, to guard against insular information loops. They’re supposed to define a creed and establish boundaries. Republican leaders haven’t done that. Now the old pious cliché applies:

First they went after the Rockefeller Republicans, but I was not a Rockefeller Republican. Then they went after the compassionate conservatives, but I was not a compassionate conservative. Then they went after the mainstream conservatives, and there was no one left to speak for me.

So maybe Romney’s just trying to take a stand for RINOs everywhere by pushing back against the conservative base. Of course, that ignores the obvious reason why Republicans are forced to tack right during primaries – because the conservative base is the one voting.

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Michigan’s Reagan Democrats May Spoil Romney’s Homecoming

Mitt Romney has been running for the Republican presidential nomination for more than five years. But after all the millions of dollars he has spent on attaining this goal and the endless trips and speeches he has made and all the debates in which he has participated, it may just come down to what happens today in Michigan. A loss in the Michigan primary isn’t necessarily fatal to his hopes. He is expected to win easily in Arizona today and given the fact that many in the party would regard Rick Santorum’s nomination as an unmitigated disaster, it should be expected that even after a defeat in his home state, Romney could eventually prevail in a long race. But a loss in Michigan would puncture, perhaps fatally, the notion of Romney’s inevitability. And it could also set in a motion a series of events, heretofore considered highly unlikely, that could lead to a deadlocked convention and the emergence of an alternative Republican candidate. All of which is to say if Romney intends to take the presidential oath in Washington next January, he had better pull out a win today.

Yet with the polls tightening in the last days before the Michigan primary, a Romney victory is very much in doubt. As Alana noted, Romney is complaining about Santorum’s effort to get Democrats to vote for him, something he considers a dirty trick. But while he might consider the robocalls underhanded, the attempt to get registered Democrats to cross over and vote for Santorum is a reflection of Romney’s weakness, not a dirty trick. Though the former Pennsylvania senator may be unelectable in November, he is well placed to appeal to one element of the old Ronald Reagan coalition: the working class Democrats who voted their values and backed the GOP in 1980 and were immortalized in Stanley Greenberg’s study that centered on Macomb County, Michigan.

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Mitt Romney has been running for the Republican presidential nomination for more than five years. But after all the millions of dollars he has spent on attaining this goal and the endless trips and speeches he has made and all the debates in which he has participated, it may just come down to what happens today in Michigan. A loss in the Michigan primary isn’t necessarily fatal to his hopes. He is expected to win easily in Arizona today and given the fact that many in the party would regard Rick Santorum’s nomination as an unmitigated disaster, it should be expected that even after a defeat in his home state, Romney could eventually prevail in a long race. But a loss in Michigan would puncture, perhaps fatally, the notion of Romney’s inevitability. And it could also set in a motion a series of events, heretofore considered highly unlikely, that could lead to a deadlocked convention and the emergence of an alternative Republican candidate. All of which is to say if Romney intends to take the presidential oath in Washington next January, he had better pull out a win today.

Yet with the polls tightening in the last days before the Michigan primary, a Romney victory is very much in doubt. As Alana noted, Romney is complaining about Santorum’s effort to get Democrats to vote for him, something he considers a dirty trick. But while he might consider the robocalls underhanded, the attempt to get registered Democrats to cross over and vote for Santorum is a reflection of Romney’s weakness, not a dirty trick. Though the former Pennsylvania senator may be unelectable in November, he is well placed to appeal to one element of the old Ronald Reagan coalition: the working class Democrats who voted their values and backed the GOP in 1980 and were immortalized in Stanley Greenberg’s study that centered on Macomb County, Michigan.

Santorum’s appeal to working class sentiments and the lost era of labor intensive American manufacturing has been overshadowed by his recent absurd comments about John F. Kennedy and the separation of church and state as well as his gaffe about President Obama’s snobbery in wanting everyone to go to college. But Santorum’s pitch to this group to back him on the basis of his conservative positions on social issues and economics poses a genuine threat to the assumption that Romney can win Michigan. It also plays into Romney’s greatest weakness: the perception that he is an inauthentic elitist whose pretensions to conservatism are phony.

It is, of course, somewhat ironic that Santorum should have blasted JFK while seeking to appeal to Reagan Democrats because, as Greenberg noted, the interesting statistic about Macomb County was that it went 63 percent for John Kennedy in 1960 but also gave 66 percent of its votes to Ronald Reagan because it perceived the Democratic Party as having abandoned the interests and values of white working class voters.

The question for Romney is whether he can mobilize enough mainstream Republicans to overwhelm Santorum’s advantage with Christian conservatives and those crossover Democrats to squeeze out a victory today. If he doesn’t, the Republican contest is about to get a lot more interesting.

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Michigan a Tossup?

At the New York Times, Nate Silver writes that the race in Michigan is too close to accurately predict:

People sometimes apply the term “tossup” a bit too broadly, using it to refer to anything close enough that they don’t want to render a prediction about it.

In Michigan, however, the term is appropriate. Rick Santorum, who once trailed Mitt Romney badly in the state, then surged to a clear lead there, then saw Romney regain his footing and pull back ahead, appears to have some late momentum in the race — perhaps just enough to win, and perhaps not.

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At the New York Times, Nate Silver writes that the race in Michigan is too close to accurately predict:

People sometimes apply the term “tossup” a bit too broadly, using it to refer to anything close enough that they don’t want to render a prediction about it.

In Michigan, however, the term is appropriate. Rick Santorum, who once trailed Mitt Romney badly in the state, then surged to a clear lead there, then saw Romney regain his footing and pull back ahead, appears to have some late momentum in the race — perhaps just enough to win, and perhaps not.

According to Silver’s projections, Romney gets 38.7 percent of the vote, while Santorum gets 38 percent. It sounds like this is going to be another race that comes down to the wire like Iowa.

Meanwhile, Santorum’s scrambling to get out the vote – to Democrats, who are allowed to vote in the Michigan primary:

Santorum’s campaign, meanwhile, confirmed it was also using a robo call urging Michigan Democrats to cross over and vote for Santorum on Tuesday.

Oddly enough, some Michigan Democrats had the same idea:

Michigan Democratic strategist Joe DiSano has taken it upon himself to become a leading mischief maker.

DiSano says he targeted nearly 50,000 Democratic voters in Michigan through email and a robo call to their homes, asking them to go to the polls Tuesday to vote for Rick Santorum in attempt to hurt Romney.

“Democrats can get in there and cause havoc for Romney all the way to the Republican convention,” DiSano told CNN.

These Democrat-targeted campaign calls could definitely have an impact in a race this tight, considering Romney initially won Iowa by just 8 votes (before losing the title to Santorum, who won the final tally by 34 votes).

Romney went on Sean Hannity’s show last night and blasted Santorum’s robo calls to Democrats as a “dirty trick.” The fact that this is the issue Romney chose to talk about on the eve of the primary shows just how nervous his campaign actually is. A Santorum win today would no doubt be chalked up by the Romney campaign to underhanded tactics and Democratic tampering. If Romney loses his home state, he’s going to need any excuse he can get.

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Romney Not Out of the Woods in Michigan

Up until today, the trend in Michigan had seemed to be running heavily in Mitt Romney’s favor as Rick Santorum’s February surge sputtered to a halt amid his controversial social issue stands and poor debate performance. But the results from two of the latest polls are a portrait of a race still up for grabs. Both Rasmussen and the Mitchell/Rosetta Stone surveys of Michigan Republicans showed a slight uptick for Santorum. The previous Rasmussen poll taken last Thursday (immediately after Santorum’s bad debate night) showed Romney leading by a 40-34-percentage point margin. Their latest poll conducted on Sunday shows Romney only up by 2 points at 38-36. Last Thursday, Mitchell/Rosetta Stone had Romney up 36-33. By Sunday, their pollsters found Santorum was leading 37-35.

What does this mean? The experience of the last month illustrates plainly that anyone who tries to predict the outcome of anything to do with the GOP presidential race is likely to be wrong the majority of the time. How Santorum managed to gain ground during a three-day period when he seemed to do nothing but stumble is beyond me. But perhaps we are looking at this problem from the wrong end of the telescope. Every time Romney has seemed ready to cruise to an inevitable victory, his failure to connect with grass-roots voters has dealt him setbacks. It may be that more Michiganders thought Romney looked silly speaking to a tiny crowd in cavernous Ford Field or found his comment about his wife’s Cadillac collection off-putting than paid attention to Santorum’s swipes at John F. Kennedy. But no matter what the explanation, Romney’s well-oiled organization and party establishment support will need to turn out the vote for him tomorrow lest he be dealt a devastating setback.

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Up until today, the trend in Michigan had seemed to be running heavily in Mitt Romney’s favor as Rick Santorum’s February surge sputtered to a halt amid his controversial social issue stands and poor debate performance. But the results from two of the latest polls are a portrait of a race still up for grabs. Both Rasmussen and the Mitchell/Rosetta Stone surveys of Michigan Republicans showed a slight uptick for Santorum. The previous Rasmussen poll taken last Thursday (immediately after Santorum’s bad debate night) showed Romney leading by a 40-34-percentage point margin. Their latest poll conducted on Sunday shows Romney only up by 2 points at 38-36. Last Thursday, Mitchell/Rosetta Stone had Romney up 36-33. By Sunday, their pollsters found Santorum was leading 37-35.

What does this mean? The experience of the last month illustrates plainly that anyone who tries to predict the outcome of anything to do with the GOP presidential race is likely to be wrong the majority of the time. How Santorum managed to gain ground during a three-day period when he seemed to do nothing but stumble is beyond me. But perhaps we are looking at this problem from the wrong end of the telescope. Every time Romney has seemed ready to cruise to an inevitable victory, his failure to connect with grass-roots voters has dealt him setbacks. It may be that more Michiganders thought Romney looked silly speaking to a tiny crowd in cavernous Ford Field or found his comment about his wife’s Cadillac collection off-putting than paid attention to Santorum’s swipes at John F. Kennedy. But no matter what the explanation, Romney’s well-oiled organization and party establishment support will need to turn out the vote for him tomorrow lest he be dealt a devastating setback.

The main takeaway from a bruising Michigan primary may be that even if Romney prevails in a state that many thought would be in his pocket, his difficulty in closing the deal with conservatives will affect his long-range prospects. As a result of an increasingly bitter fight, Santorum and Romney have suffered setbacks in terms of their appeal to independents. Though a win by any margin in the state where he was born would be welcome for Romney, any outcome that gives hope to Santorum to keep fighting will not be helpful to his prospects in November.

That’s because no matter who loses in Michigan there is the possibility that due to the state’s delegate allocation rules that treat each congressional district as a separate entity, the loser may end up the winner in terms of delegates. As the New York Times’s Nate Silver explains, the GOP’s fuzzy delegate math makes the outcome of a protracted and close race difficult to predict. The longer the Republican race lasts, the weaker the eventual winner will be. Which means that absent a big Romney win tomorrow in Michigan, the GOP will be mired in a nasty internecine war for weeks, if not months, to come.

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Survey Says: Santorum’s Social Views Killing Him in Michigan

There’s a chance Rick Santorum may still scrape out a win in Michigan tomorrow. This morning’s Public Policy Polling survey has Mitt Romney leading him by just a few points, 39 percent to 37 percent. But the internal numbers look worse for Santorum, and his ongoing slide in the state seems to be due to his focus on social issues:

One place Santorum may have hurt himself in the last week is an overemphasis on social issues. 69 percent of voters say they’re generally more concerned with economic issues this year to only 17 percent who pick social issues. And with the overwhelming majority of voters more concerned about the economy, Romney leads Santorum 45-30. Santorum’s winning those more concerned about social issues 79-12 but it’s just not that big a piece of the pie.

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There’s a chance Rick Santorum may still scrape out a win in Michigan tomorrow. This morning’s Public Policy Polling survey has Mitt Romney leading him by just a few points, 39 percent to 37 percent. But the internal numbers look worse for Santorum, and his ongoing slide in the state seems to be due to his focus on social issues:

One place Santorum may have hurt himself in the last week is an overemphasis on social issues. 69 percent of voters say they’re generally more concerned with economic issues this year to only 17 percent who pick social issues. And with the overwhelming majority of voters more concerned about the economy, Romney leads Santorum 45-30. Santorum’s winning those more concerned about social issues 79-12 but it’s just not that big a piece of the pie.

Santorum’s net favorability has also taken a hit:

The last week of the campaign in Michigan has seen significant damage to Santorum’s image with GOP voters in the state. His net favorability has declined 29 points from +44 (67/23) to now only +15 (54/39). Negative attacks on Romney meanwhile have had no negative effect with his favorability steady at +20 (57/37). Two weeks ago Santorum’s net favorability in Michigan was 34 points better than Romney’s. Now Romney’s is 5 points better than Santorum’s. Those kinds of wild swings are the story of the GOP race.

If Santorum does win Michigan tomorrow, you can point to the timing. He’s on the downswing in the state, and his momentum is fading by the day. If this race was taking place Friday instead of Tuesday, you could safely bet on Romney.

It’s also interesting that negative attacks against Romney have largely been a bust, while negative attacks against Santorum have clearly hit the mark. Just a few weeks ago, when Santorum was rising in the polls, Romney was warned not to go too negative on his opponent. The backlash from attacking Santorum – a conservative favorite and someone who’d been careful to avoid getting into the mud – seemed to be too much of a risk. But clearly, the predictions were wrong.

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Romney’s Questionable Tactics

With only a couple of days left until the crucial Michigan primary, it appears that the latest momentum swing in the Republican presidential contest may have saved Mitt Romney’s candidacy. A loss to Rick Santorum in his home state would be a devastating blow to the GOP’s erstwhile frontrunner. But Santorum’s surprising surge appears to have ground to halt in the last week. A renewed focus on his extremely conservative views on social issues combined with an all-out attack on his congressional record by Romney’s well-oiled campaign machine has damaged the Pennsylvanian. Even more, a poor performance in what was probably the last Republican debate on Wednesday may have been the turning point in this latest chapter of a highly volatile race. All signs point to a Romney victory in Michigan on Tuesday. With Arizona also likely to go for Romney that same day, it will be possible for his campaign to again proclaim his nomination is inevitable.

But amid the good news, there are also some troubling signs for Romney. Just as he did a month earlier with Newt Gingrich in Florida, Romney’s assaults have succeeded in diminishing the appeal of his foe. By going negative in this manner, he has further embittered an already nasty primary battle and ensured his opponents will stay in the race long after they are no longer viable. Even more importantly, by attacking Santorum from the right, Romney has given new credence to the charges he is a hypocrite and a political chameleon who is willing to say anything in order to gain a momentary advantage. This will hurt him in the long slog toward November.

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With only a couple of days left until the crucial Michigan primary, it appears that the latest momentum swing in the Republican presidential contest may have saved Mitt Romney’s candidacy. A loss to Rick Santorum in his home state would be a devastating blow to the GOP’s erstwhile frontrunner. But Santorum’s surprising surge appears to have ground to halt in the last week. A renewed focus on his extremely conservative views on social issues combined with an all-out attack on his congressional record by Romney’s well-oiled campaign machine has damaged the Pennsylvanian. Even more, a poor performance in what was probably the last Republican debate on Wednesday may have been the turning point in this latest chapter of a highly volatile race. All signs point to a Romney victory in Michigan on Tuesday. With Arizona also likely to go for Romney that same day, it will be possible for his campaign to again proclaim his nomination is inevitable.

But amid the good news, there are also some troubling signs for Romney. Just as he did a month earlier with Newt Gingrich in Florida, Romney’s assaults have succeeded in diminishing the appeal of his foe. By going negative in this manner, he has further embittered an already nasty primary battle and ensured his opponents will stay in the race long after they are no longer viable. Even more importantly, by attacking Santorum from the right, Romney has given new credence to the charges he is a hypocrite and a political chameleon who is willing to say anything in order to gain a momentary advantage. This will hurt him in the long slog toward November.

The process by which Romney is trying to take down Santorum has been efficiently run and done the job as befits the work of a brilliant businessman and planner. Romney has sought to brand Santorum as a symbol of dysfunctional Washington establishment and even tried to cast doubt on the former senator’s conservative bona fides. Combined with the well-founded doubts about his electability that Santorum’s comments about religion and contraception have inspired, Romney’s blasts may deliver him a sweep of the two states holding primaries on Tuesday. That would enable him to survive a three-week period during which Santorum’s surge provided the greatest challenge yet to Romney’s candidacy.

However, the single-minded manner with which Romney has sought to take Santorum apart will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of more than Santorum’s large family. The spectacle of a longtime GOP moderate criticizing the former senator for being a “team player” was absurd. So, too was Romney’s attack on Santorum’s backing for earmarks when it is remembered he asked Congress to use the same device to fund the 2002 Winter Olympics. And while some Pennsylvania conservatives are still sore at Santorum for backing Arlen Specter in 2004, Romney’s harping on this issue might have some credibility if he had actually backed Pat Toomey’s primary challenge.

It should be remembered that politics isn’t beanbag but it’s hard not to sympathize a bit with Santorum’s anger at having a recent convert to conservatism like Romney attacking him from the right. The ease with which Romney has tacked right on any issue where he had an opening against a specific candidate speaks to the hardheaded manner with which he has run his campaign. A president needs to be single-minded and even ruthless on occasion pursuing a goal. But Romney’s ability to harp on an opponent’s weaknesses in spite of his vulnerability on the same issues also reinforces the impression he is a bit of a phony with few identifiable ideological principles other than his faith and his family.

It is also Romney’s bad luck that the rules of the 2012 Republican presidential race make a knockout blow unlikely. Proportional delegate allocations will make it impossible for Romney to clinch the nomination until late in the spring at the earliest. It is likely Santorum will stay in to provide a conservative alternative to primary voters even if his losses in the next week make his nomination unlikely.

Romney may have been right to conclude the only way to beat his more conservative opponents was to besmirch them in any way possible (something that was a lot easier to do to a man with Newt Gingrich’s baggage than Santorum). But in doing so, he has stoked the anger of conservatives rather than won them over. A long, nasty primary battle that lasts for months will diminish Romney’s coffers and his vaunted advantage in electability.

Romney has many excellent qualities and his prowess as a problem-solving businessman may be what the country needs in 2012. He can make a strong argument that he is the only one of the remaining Republican candidates who can beat Barack Obama in November. But primary victories won by tactics that remind voters of his insincerity will make it much harder for him to accomplish that goal.

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Romney Widens Lead in Michigan

Rasmussen has the first post-debate poll out, and it looks like Mitt Romney has regained a comfortable lead over Rick Santorum in Michigan:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters in Michigan shows Romney with 40 percent of the vote and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum with 34 percent. The poll was conducted on Thursday night, following the last scheduled debate among the GOP candidates.

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Rasmussen has the first post-debate poll out, and it looks like Mitt Romney has regained a comfortable lead over Rick Santorum in Michigan:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters in Michigan shows Romney with 40 percent of the vote and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum with 34 percent. The poll was conducted on Thursday night, following the last scheduled debate among the GOP candidates.

The expectations for Romney’s performance in Michigan have been lowered slightly during the past week or so, but he still needs to win the state in order to avert disaster for his campaign. Even double-victories in Michigan and Arizona next Tuesday may only help him hold onto the status quo, and wouldn’t necessarily lock up the race. Writes the Washington Post’s Dan Balz:

How much would a pair of victories be worth? Republican strategists say that although they would restore Romney to front-runner status in the race, they could still leave the party looking at a long nomination battle. They also say that winning both states Tuesday wouldn’t be enough to resolve many of the doubts that still surround Romney.

Although he has long been seen as the candidate to beat for the nomination, Romney has fought to meet the expectations that go along with that status. He has been losing that battle of late. Against a relatively weak field of opponents, he has not been able to demonstrate consistent superiority. He has struggled to excite the Republican Party’s conservative grass-roots base. Conservative elites have been critical of his message and his candidacy. His shortcomings have engendered considerable talk about the still-remote possibility of another candidate entering the race.

Just the mere fact that Michigan became such a nail-biter is a serious concern that won’t be immediately placated by a Romney victory. Winning Michigan and Arizona would put the momentum back in Romney’s court and set him back on the right path, but it won’t be the end of the battle for him.

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Another GOP Momentum Shift?

Just when the public was starting to get used to the idea of Rick Santorum perhaps becoming the new Republican presidential frontrunner, it appears that another momentum shift may be under way. After steady gains in national and state polls in the last two weeks, the Santorum juggernaut — which has been powered by both the passion of evangelicals and the widespread dissatisfaction on the right with Mitt Romney — may be starting to lose a bit of steam. Another new poll out of Michigan shows Romney gaining ground today and resuming a small lead over Santorum. When combined with other surveys showing the former Massachusetts governor assuming a sizeable lead in Arizona — which along with Michigan will hold primaries seven days from now — the Michigan polls ought to worry Santorum’s camp.

Up until late last week, Santorum had been leading a charmed life as far as avoiding negative publicity and engendering good will. But when the debate about contraception morphed from one about defending the religious freedom of the Catholic Church into one that centered on Santorum’s personal views on the matter, it served to remind Republicans his stands on social issues tend to be outside of the mainstream. While most Republicans do not hold his ideas about the importance of the family and opposition to abortion and gay marriage against him, the last week has been highly reminiscent of the way his 2006 Senate re-election campaign was dogged by controversial quotes from his book, It Takes a Family. Though Romney is still plagued by his inability to connect with ordinary voters and doubt has been cast on the notion of his greater electability, the kerfuffle about birth control may have been just enough to halt Santorum’s momentum and give his more moderate opponent a chance to save his candidacy before the voters in his home state of Michigan destroyed his hopes.

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Just when the public was starting to get used to the idea of Rick Santorum perhaps becoming the new Republican presidential frontrunner, it appears that another momentum shift may be under way. After steady gains in national and state polls in the last two weeks, the Santorum juggernaut — which has been powered by both the passion of evangelicals and the widespread dissatisfaction on the right with Mitt Romney — may be starting to lose a bit of steam. Another new poll out of Michigan shows Romney gaining ground today and resuming a small lead over Santorum. When combined with other surveys showing the former Massachusetts governor assuming a sizeable lead in Arizona — which along with Michigan will hold primaries seven days from now — the Michigan polls ought to worry Santorum’s camp.

Up until late last week, Santorum had been leading a charmed life as far as avoiding negative publicity and engendering good will. But when the debate about contraception morphed from one about defending the religious freedom of the Catholic Church into one that centered on Santorum’s personal views on the matter, it served to remind Republicans his stands on social issues tend to be outside of the mainstream. While most Republicans do not hold his ideas about the importance of the family and opposition to abortion and gay marriage against him, the last week has been highly reminiscent of the way his 2006 Senate re-election campaign was dogged by controversial quotes from his book, It Takes a Family. Though Romney is still plagued by his inability to connect with ordinary voters and doubt has been cast on the notion of his greater electability, the kerfuffle about birth control may have been just enough to halt Santorum’s momentum and give his more moderate opponent a chance to save his candidacy before the voters in his home state of Michigan destroyed his hopes.

The Mitchell/Rosetta Stone Poll of Michigan conducted for the Michigan Information & Research Service shows Romney gaining considerable ground in the last week. The previous poll of Michigan Republicans showed Santorum with a nine-point, 34-25 percent lead. In less than seven days, Romney gained seven percentage points to resume a 32-30 advantage.

But the news was not all bad for Santorum today as a Rasmussen poll showed him holding on to a 38-34 percent lead over Romney. That was a slight improvement over Rasmussen’s survey taken a week ago that showed him with a 35-32 percent lead.

Taken together, these latest polls indicate that the Michigan primary is still up for grabs, because no matter which one you think is more accurate, both have produced results within the statistical margin of error. Clearly, either of the two leading candidates can still win the state, but it is to Romney’s advantage that the trend of the last three weeks (in which Santorum made steady gains) appears to have ebbed. These polls also confirm Newt Gingrich is not a factor in Michigan or any other upcoming state besides his home in Georgia. If Gingrich continues to lose ground that will be a major problem for Romney. Voters who abandon the former speaker because he is no longer seen as viable are most likely to wind up in Santorum’s column.

A lot can happen in the next seven days with tomorrow night’s CNN debate from Michigan (the first GOP debate in nearly a month) assuming great importance in the minds of the media if not the voters. Santorum’s debate performances have been consistently outstanding, but this time he will be appearing as one of the frontrunners and with a big target on his back rather than being able to stand aside as Gingrich and Romney savage each other. Romney’s enormous financial advantage will also be the focus of much coverage as he is likely to continue swamping the state with advertisements in the upcoming days, and Santorum will not be able to match or even come close to his efforts.

Santorum’s message of blue-collar conservatism is tailor-made for Michigan. But the race is sufficiently close that any doubts about his viability because of his hard line social views could be enough to help Romney squeak through to victory. The halt in his momentum also could enable Romney to survive his campaign’s most severe test.

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