Romney wins two key states in Arizona and Michigan, but in battle with media
DAYTONA BEACH SHORES -- Mitt Romney carried Arizona and claimed its 29 delegates in what was barely a contest. He took Michigan as well.
Those delegates guarantee that Romney will leave Tuesday's primaries with the majority of the delegates awarded.
Though Romney won Michigan by a small margin, even a narrow loss to Santorum would have left him with enough of Michigan’s proportionally-awarded delegates to take away a substantial delegate advantage on the day.
The race in Michigan was initially too close to call. As this is written, with 75% of the counties reporting and Romney leading Santorum 41% to 37%, Fox News has just projected Romney as the winner in Michigan.
But even with a narrow Romney victory in Michigan, Santorum’s challenge to him in what the media insists on calling Romney’s home state will probably re-strengthen Santorum’s fading momentum. Santorum’s camp is already claiming that a narrow loss in Michigan is actually a victory for him on Romney’s home turf. I disagree.
Romney was born in and spent his childhood in Michigan. His father George Romney had been CEO of American Motors from 1954 to 1962, was a popular governor from 1963-1989 and ran for president in 1968. But the Michigan of today is a very different place from the prosperous manufacturing leader of 44 years ago.
The elder Romney did not win the nomination. American Motors Corporation cars ceased production in 1987. The automobile industry collapsed and had to be bailed out by Obama in 2009 lest it vanish altogether.
And the state’s leading city, Detroit, went from proud American standard-bearer through decades of socialist mismanagement and corruption, to mass immigration of welfare recipients, to a chaotic state in which much of the once grand city resembles a Third World slum.
I do not believe that Romney’s childhood connections to what is now little more than a mythical golden age in much of Michigan gives him much stroke in today’s ravaged state. And if that is so, there is little basis for concluding that a strong Santorum performance in Michigan equates to a big loss for Romney.
As always, this is a race for delegates. And in that race, in the two primaries conducted today, Romney prevailed.
The two primaries are quite different. Both states had their number of delegates halved by the Republican National Committee because they, like Florida, advanced the dates of their primaries ahead of March 6. But Michigan’s delegates are awarded on a sort of proportional basis – the candidate winning the most votes in each of the state’s 14 congressional districts wins the two delegates from that district. The remaining two delegates are awarded proportionally.
This arrangement could lead to a situation in which one candidate wins a majority of the votes (for example by winning big in large city districts with large populations) while the other candidate wins more individual districts and thus a larger number of delegates.
Arizona is a winner-take-all state. Arizona’s Republican primary is closed to all, but registered Republicans. Michigan has an open primary, which has led to calls by Dem strategists for Democrats to register as Republicans and vote for Santorum to weaken Romney, the opponent they fear most.
As far as the media has been concerned, the Arizona primary barely exists. Romney, who won the support of popular Governor Jan Brewer and some 50% of the vote, was always expected to win easily. But Michigan was a real horse race.
Santorum’s surge following his trifecta in Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota, at one point pushed him ahead of Romney by as much as 15 points. But these media-generated surges tend to fade almost as quickly as they arise.
And so it was with Santorum who, by election morning, was tied or perhaps even fractionally behind his opponent. And that even though Santorum enjoyed the additional advantage of weak opponents from his right as neither Gingrich nor Paul devoted much time or resources to Michigan, making this the nearest thing to a two-man-race that Romney has yet faced.
Indeed, had this vote been any closer, it could actually have been decided by the absentee ballots, most of which were mailed before Santorum’s surge began and thus at a time when sentiment in Michigan was strongly supportive of Romney.
Whatever the final tally, Romney has walked away with two victories and the largest total of the delegates in play today. But, once again, today’s two primaries are important principally as they impact the ten contests on March 6 – so-called “Super Tuesday.”
Romney continues to enjoy a massive advantage in money and organization, which should give him the win on March 6th and, absent major problems, the nomination later in the summer. But Santorum astutely played his three wins two weeks ago into a substantial flow of campaign cash which he has used to improve his support staff in a number of vital states. The media can be counted on to hype his performance in Michigan to intensify the rivalry with Romney.
This is in part because the struggle improves ratings and sells papers. In addition, most of the mainstream media is unabashedly pro-Obama and would much prefer the more conservative Santorum to the more moderate Romney as an opponent in November, when the election will likely be decided by the narrow center of the voting public.
Romney’s chances could also be impacted on March 6 by Newt Gingrich’s southern strategy.
Realizing that he has little support in Michigan and Arizona, Gingrich has spent time and new funds from his principal supporter in Las Vegas to shore up his positions in Tennessee and in his native state of Georgia, both of which will vote on Super Tuesday.
At this stage it appears that Gingrich is unlikely to win the nomination. But he reportedly personally dislikes Romney and would take personal pleasure in playing the role of spoiler.
Ron Paul continues to focus on caucuses, where he can accomplish more with less money and with diehard supporters. He is not expected to be a major factor on March 6. Interestingly, he appears to be well-disposed toward the idea of an eventual Romney nomination.
In my last column, I stressed that Super Tuesday should point us toward the winner of the nomination. That does not mean that any single candidate will have the nomination wrapped up on March 7. That is a mathematical impossibility.
The Republican National Committee designed this series of primary contests to be a marathon, not a sprint. But if any single candidate has corralled a substantial lead in delegate totals by March 7, that candidate is most likely to continue to amass the largest number of delegates in enough of the coming contests to win the 1,144 delegates needed to capture the nomination before the convention.
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