Heading into the Arizona and Michigan primaries Feb. 28, 64-year-old former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney faces his biggest test after winning five of the last 7 primaries and caucuses, piling up only 123 delegates, en route the 1,144 needed to win the GOP nomination. While Michigan only award its 30 delegates proportionally, it’s Romney’s adopted home state, where his father George, former president of now defunct American Motors, served six years as governor before joining the Nixon cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Losing in Michigan, where most recent polls show a virtual dead-heat with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), would suck the life out of Romney’s campaign. While recent polls show Romneny up by 15.5% in Arizona, Michigan holds symbolic significance since he beat Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.
Michigan holds an open primary where Democrats can crossover and cast their votes for Santorum, believing Romney’s the stronger of the two candidates in the general election. Whatever the shenanigans in the voting booth, Romney’s expected to win his adopted state by a wide margin. If he can’t carry Michigan, GOP primary voters may abandon ship, believing his negatives can’t compete with President Barack Obama next November. When Romney started the primaries Jan. 4 in Iowa, his campaign painted the race as a done-deal, anointing him as the GOP’s nominee. When he eventually lost Iowa to Santorum by two delegates with a recount, doubts surfaced whether the former Mass. governor was repeating 2008. Showing he isn’t well regarded by conservative voters, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll showed only 38% of conservative voters favor Romney.
Whether Romney wins Michigan or not, he won’t get too many delegates, since all 30 are given out proportionally. Romney stands to add at least 29 delegates in Arizona where he’s favored by a sizable margin. It’s curious that Santorum doesn’t fair better in Arizona, where religious conservatives continue to flex their muscles. Some view Arizona’s sizable Mormon population as a real plus for Romney, despite the fact that he’s never lived in the state. “There’s a real effort to kidnap our primary process, and if want to nominate the Republican who takes on Barack Obama, I need a Republican to get out and vote and say no to the dirty tricks of a desperate campaign,” said Romney rebuking the Santorum campaign. Romney’s inability to put away other GOP candidates shows weakness with the GOP’s base that needs religious conservatives to get out the vote in key states.
Despite the endorsement of Michigan’s governor Rick Synder and outspending Santorum two-to-one at $4 million, Romney finds himself holding on by his fingernails.Santorum capitalized on a Detroit News poll that indicates voters perceive Romney as a Wall Street fat-cat. Revelations about Romney’s Cayman Island investments and 14% tax rate left ordinary voters turned off. “I think Santorum is completely radioactive and will bring an electoral disaster to the Republicans. He could deliver Obama a landslide,” said Michigan Democratic strategist Joe DiSano. With Michigan’s open primary, most Democratic strategists believe it’s in Party’s best interests to see Santorum prevail against Romney. Why DiSano bashes Santorum is anyone’s guess. Painting himself as a “venture capital” and “leveraged buyout guy,” Romney sided with big corporations over ordinary workers.
Romney complains about Santorum’s “robocalls” touting his conservative credentials, including lowering taxes, balancing budgets, opposing gay marriage and challenging Roe v. Wade. “Rick Santorum’s message—a balanced budget, cutting spending and revitalizing the manufacturing sector—resonates and inspires the conservatives here and resonates with Reagan Democrats,” said Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley. Santorum never explains that Reagan created the biggest deficits in the nation’s history by cutting taxes. He quadrupled former President Jimmy Carter’s paltry $60 billion deficit, implementing 10% across-the-board tax cuts. Republicans have never admitted that Reaganomics added to federal deficits and didn’t balance the budget. Even so, Santorum is true to his conservative roots, repeating the Reagan talking points without facing the ugly reality.
Romney faces a symbolic test of his campaign in Michigan. While he’s expected to win Arizona by a hefty margin, Romney’s real test comes in Michigan where he can appeal to blue caller Republicans. “But there is nothing dirty about sending a robocall to the voters of Michigan saying we’r3e the most conservative, were going to fix the economy, vote for us,” said Gidley, rejecting Romney’s criticism. If Michigan voters reject Romney, it spells trouble on Super Tuesday March 6, where some 10 states go to the polls to pick the GOP nominee. Romney’s campaign still hasn’t recovered from revelations about his income tax rate and offshore tax shelters in the Caribbean. Unable to hide the truth, Romney’s now face the same objections he did in 2008 when the GOP picked McCain. Worth over $250 million from venture capital and leveraged buyouts, Romney looks too uppity for the average voter.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.