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Friday, February 17, 2012

"It's Going to be Bedlam"

"It is going to be bedlam in the Republican Party if he can't win Michigan." -Political analyst Jamal Simmons

Can we get that lucky? Can we have Mitt Romney, once considered a lock by countless pundits (including me), lose the state where his father was governor and where he himself grew up? Can the month of February really be that disastrous for Romney?

Yes. I won't take too much space to re-hash what has happened to the Romney campaign in the month of February, but remember that the Florida Primary was on January 31. Romney won all 50 of its delegates and, through advertising and the strength of victory, dismantled his nearest competition, Newt Gingrich. With a commanding delegate lead and no rival in striking distance, the nomination was his.

But then the calendar flipped to February. On February 7, Rick Santorum swept the three-state day. He only slightly closed the delegate gap, but the shift in momentum was palpable. Romney's narrow Maine Caucus win over Ron Paul did little to shift public sentiment. The week was Santorum's.

Still, with over two weeks until the next contests--the Michigan and Arizona primaries on February 28--conventional wisdom said that Romney could regroup and get back on track ahead of Super Tuesday on March 6. Due to the background of the Romney family and its corresponding status as a "home state" for him, Michigan was a lock for the Romney Campaign. With Michigan an automatic win, Romney could focus on Arizona, blitzkrieg the airwaves with anti-Santorum ads, win both states, and regain momentum heading into Super Tuesday and put away the field.

Annnnyy time now, Romney. Wheneeeeever you're ready.

Michigan, it turns out, is no lock. Not even close. The latest polls from the Motor State consistently show Rick Santorum with a lead. What a difference two weeks make.

On February 2, two separate polls showed Romney with 15-point leads (and one of those was with Gingrich in second!). There was then no polls released until this week, where we've seen five different polls published, all of which now show Santorum with the Michigan lead. Two of those have the lead at 3 to 4, but the others yield a 9-, 10-, and 15-point lead for the former Pennsylvania Senator. In Michigan. In Romney country.

And the funny thing is, we're all forgetting about Arizona, where a poll by the American Research Group this week showed that, despite all the Santormomentum, Romney still has a 7-point lead. Remember, the Arizona Primary is a winner-take-all contest. If Romney holds onto that massive lead, he'll win all 29 Arizona delegates. Therefore, even if he loses 30-delegate Michigan by, say, 10 points, Santorum will only clear a few more delegates than him in the state. Thus, Romney will win 2/28 with a net gain of over 20 delegates and ultimately extend his delegate lead.

But it won't matter. Michigan is his home state. It's where he grew up. If he splits the two February 28 primaries with Santorum but the one Romney loses is Michigan, it might be a net gain in delegates, but it'll be a net loss in momentum. Santorum is already playing better across the country. He has edged ahead in national polls, including a sizeable 12-point lead in a Rasmussen poll. A week after the 2/28 contests is Super Tuesday. With it, the primary goes transnational, with 10 states and 437 delegates up for grabs in that one night. If Santorum holds his momentum on February 28, he could subsequently win the big day, matching Romney in total delegates or even taking his lead. With Gingrich and Paul doing their stubborn thing and Romney and Santorum splitting delegates down the stretch, we could be careening toward a brokered convention.

This is all a realistic scenario if Romney loses Michigan.

Bedlam, indeed.

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