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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What's the Deal With Michigan?

When a plethora of states decided to have more influence in the primary elections, most state parties decided to push up their primary voting days to the earliest allowed date by the national parties: February 5th. In fact, it looks as though 22 states will be voting on that Super Tuesday. Some state parties, however, told the national parties exactly what they could do with their earliest allowed dates. Those states - primarily Michigan and Florida - picked out dates in January.

In order to keep structure, the national party needed to discipline these states, but it was up to each party to decide how.

In Michigan, which votes today, the Democratic National Committee opted to strip all of Michigan's delegates from the primary process, though the nominee might choose to re-award the delegates for the convention, when it will not matter. So while Michigan Democrats do in fact vote today, their votes do not count, and they can thank their state party for it. Furthermore, all contenders except Hillary Clinton have withdrawn their name from the ballot due to Michigan's maverick move in front of the February 5th allowance, further marginalizing their primary.

The Republican's penalty was lighter, penalizing Michigan only half its delegates. That means, instead of the 60 delegates that Michigan normally sends to the Republican Convention, they will only be awarded 30 seats. Considering Iowa sends 40, Wyoming 12, New Hampshire 12 (post penalty), and Saturday's Nevada Caucus 34, Michigan's 30 still carries some weight for the GOP, even with the penalty.

Therefore, it is time to examine how today's Michigan Primary will affect the GOP race, while we can understandably ignore the inevitable Clinton win for the Democrats.

Here is how the delegate count stands after Iowa, Wyoming, and New Hampshire (Note that delegates needed to win are 1,191 out of 2,382):
Huckabee - 31
Romney - 19
McCain - 7
Thompson - 3
Hunter - 1
Giuliani - 0
Paul - 0

What is most interesting is Romney's life in the race. He has come up short of expectations, but his mediocre consistency has kept him breathing long enough to compete in Michigan, his birth-state. Two second place finishes combined with Wyoming's first place finish has kept him within arm's reach of Huckabee while McCain is at arm's length behind. Now, with polls showing Romney and McCain going back and forth atop of Michigan's polls and Huckabee a distant third, one can make an argument that a Romney win in Michigan will bring him very close to Huckabee, and Romney would have the momentum heading into Nevada and then South Carolina, which would become a three-candidate race.

At that point, Huckabee, currently the delegate count leader, would have Romney and McCain very close to his perch. McCain, who most think is the favorite to win the nomination, is actually third in the delegate count and almost certainly going to remain third after today, unless he wins Michigan by double digits over Romney, which is extremely unlikely. Despite being third today and tomorrow, McCain is still the favorite in national GOP polls.

Meanwhile, Romney will have finished in first or second in the first four elections of the primary cycle, while no other candidate has even finished in the top three in all of them (Huckabee did not earn a delegate in Wyoming; ditto to McCain and he also placed fourth in Iowa).

Finally, lying beyond Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina is January 29th's Florida Primary. Florida is similarly being penalized for having a January primary, but like Michigan, it still retains a healthy delegate count when its 114 is halved to 57, which is still easily the largest delegate count to that point.

In that state, Rudy Giuliani still polls in the top two, as he does in California, New York, and New Jersey, all of which vote on February 5th. Those delegate rich states, which are not penalized, are a terrific route to get back into this race. The obvious question for Giuliani is: Can he win those states if he continues to finish out of the top four in all of the early primaries?

My guess is no, but it still does not stop him from putting a serious dent into the Republican primary, which makes a brokered convention a real possibility.

So watch the Michigan polls tonight. McCain is going to win, Romney will finish a handful of points back, and Huckabee a distant third. Since the delegate count reads opposite to that list, Michigan is going to bring this Republican Primary even closer.

Good times.

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