Mitt Romney avoided humiliation by pulling out a narrow victory over Rick Santorum in Michigan last night. Even though Romney has deep Michigan roots, he was only able to beat Santorum by three percentage points. Romney won the state with 41 percent of the vote to Santorum’s 38 percent. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich were not factors in the contest.
While Santorum came up short in Michigan, he faired much better than anyone expected. Hours after Santorum swept all three February 7th contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, the media and most beltway political pundits were already predicting certain death to the Santorum campaign. The thought was that Santorum sneaked up and surprised Romney by winning those three February 7th states. The Romney campaign itself tried to argue that those three contests were insignificant and didn’t really matter.
The thinking was that Romney wouldn’t allow Santorum sneak up on him again. It was also uniformly accepted that Romney and his Super PAC would destroy Santorum like they did Newt Gingrich in Florida. Some even referred to the Romney Super PAC as “The Death Star” from Star Wars fame because its sole purpose is to seek out and destroy anything in Romney’s path to the nomination.
Nobody fathomed that Santorum would be able to withstand the onslaught of negative ads that would come his way, but he held up far better than Gingrich did in Florida. Santorum’s ability to remain in contention throughout the three-week campaign is much more impressive than how Gingrich wilted under the 10-day Romney assault in Florida, where Romney ended up winning by 12 points. While Romney and his Super PAC tried to pummel Santorum, they were largely ineffective. It was Santorum’s self-inflicted wounds on the campaign trail and on the debate stage that caused him to stumble and come up short in Michigan.
Romney tried to capitalize on Santorum’s errors, but Romney was also guilty of tripping all over himself. Santorum was on the ropes last week, but the Romney campaign over-sold his economic speech, and worse yet, they staged it in the cavernous Ford Field, a stadium more suitable for a Super Bowl than a political speech to 1000 people. Romney’s gaffes seem to happen at the most inopportune times.
Romney’s “Ford Field Fumble,” as ABC News called it, shifted attention from Santorum’s poor debate performance and put the Romney campaign on the defensive. Romney also continued make a few gaffes that perpetuated the narrative that he doesn’t relate to ordinary working class people. In Detroit, he rattled off all the cars he owns, including “a couple of Cadillacs’” that his wife Ann drives. When asked about his connection to NASCAR at the Daytona 500 he said, “I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.” So much for trying to appeal to normal folks by attending a NASCAR race.
Romney was fortunate that the most contested state last night was one where he had a number of advantages. It also didn’t hurt that Romney and his Super PAC were able to outspend Santorum by an eight to one margin in the three weeks leading up to last night’s primary. Still Romney needed one thing, a win, and he got it. Romney’s victories in Arizona and Michigan allow him to right the ship after Santorum posted impressive victories on February 7th, but Santorum doesn’t leave Michigan empty handed.
Romney may have won the popular vote in Michigan, but Santorum won just as many delegates in Michigan asRomney did. In many respects, Santorum fought Romney to a tie on his home turf. Santorum’s ability to claim a partial victory is important for him heading into Super Tuesday. Santorum leads Romney in the polls in critical states like Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Super Tuesday contains some states that Romney will easily win, but Santorum is well positioned.
Romney may have gotten a two big wins last night, but he didn’t win by a large enough margin in Michigan to knock Santorum off track. With only six days until Super Tuesday, Romney’s “Death Star” needed a direct hit on Santorum, and instead, all he really accomplished was surviving and not getting blown up himself.
- Arizona and Michigan May Provide a Glimpse of What’s to Come (theiowarepublican.com)
- Romney Bests Santorum in Michigan (theiowarepublican.com)
- Presidential Race Continues Shift as Super Tuesday Nears (theiowarepublican.com)
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