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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Michigan & Arizona Preview

With Mitt Romney dominating the Arizona polls, we can chalk up the Arizona Primary's 29 delegates to his column. Thus, today's post will focus on Michigan, its importance, and how several scenarios might affect the next week and beyond. (For more on that, head on over to Construction and check out my roundtable with three other political commentators.)

First, can everyone stop saying Michigan means more to Romney than it does to Rick Santorum? It doesn't. Not even close. It's nowhere near a must-win for Romney, though you wouldn't know it by watching MSNBC or reading the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, or a host of other publications. Sure, while losing Michigan would be more embarrassing for Romney than it would be for Santorum, it would not be nearly as damaging.

Remember, since Arizona is a winner-take all primary while Michigan is proportional, Romney is guaranteed to leave today with a larger delegate lead than the one with which he entered. Of Michigan's 30 delegates, 28 are awarded based on wins in each of its 14 congressional districts. Each district is worth two delegates, totaling 28, while Michigan's final two delegates are divided proportionally by the state's popular vote, which will almost certainly be divided 1 and 1 between Romney and Santorum. Thus, it's unlikely either candidate wins more than 19 of Michigan's 30 delegates, so let's put that as our maximum victory. Either candidate could maybe put together 9 of the 14 districts, giving him 18 delegates from those, and 1 from the state-wide proportional allocation. Given the razor-tight polls, it's more likely, of course, that the winning candidate wins 8, or that the two candidates split the 14 districts at 7 each.

That leaves us, then, with Santorum, at most, clearing 19 delegates in Michigan and the day as a whole. Romney would consequently earn a disappointing 11 in Michigan, but you must couple that 11 with his locked up 29 from Arizona. The total results on the day? Romney 40, Santorum 19.

Not even close.

Thus, even with a Romney loss in Michigan, Romney will surely open up his lead some more tonight, continue his recent momentum heading into Super Tuesday, and put even more distance between himself and his GOP rivals by the morning of March 7. And that's all with a Romney loss in Michigan. There's no substantive reason to believe he will lose his home state, as all polls point to momentum in Romney's corner, both in Michigan polls and national ones. We then arrive back where this post began: a Santorum loss in Michigan is devastating, much more so than a Romney loss would be. It might just about make the rest of the primary a technicality, as surely Romney would win transition two wins today into even bigger wins on Super Tuesday. So Michigan actually means more to Santorum than it does to Romney, and don't let anyone tell you differently. The media wants this to last as long as possible. Presidential Politics for America doesn't play with your emotions. That would be wrong.

Now, that's not to say we're eight days from this primary being over. We're not. A Santorum win in Michigan is relevant insofar as it will extend this primary for another month, maybe two. A Santorum win in Michigan, despite the loss of last week's double-digit lead, is nearly as realistic as a Romney one. While Romney might have the momentum with the numbers, Santorum still seems to have a much more impassioned base. Romney voters are largely apathetic toward their robotic candidate; Santorum's followers, rabidly conservative, follow him around like a rock star. Recently, he even has two enormous conservative voices--Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck--supporting his cause as the last viable conservative in the race. Could their late push get the conservative base out to today's polls?

Furthermore, and I'm not sure if this is irony or not, we could see the conservative base teaming with, of all people, the Democrats of the state. Michigan has an open primary, where voters of any party can vote in any party's primary. They might push Santorum to victory in an effort to further elongate and discombobulate the GOP. It's unpredictable to what extent this will be a factor. Will enough Democrats actually support the ultra-conservative candidate in an effort to rattle Romney? Doesn't that come awfully close to "be careful what you wish for" territory? There's a sizeable and probably correct portion of the punditry that feels the 2012 election is a referendum on President Obama. In other words, he will win or not win based solely on his success as President, regardless of who the Republican nominee is. If this is so, than a Santorum win is just as likely as a Romney one, and Democrats have little purpose in elongating a race that might ultimately swing to Santorum's favor. It's not just playing with fire; it's playing with yellowcake uranium.

Finally, here are three things to watch for in tonight's Michigan Primary (again, there's little suspense in Arizona):
1. Four years ago, Romney won by 9.2 percent of the vote over John McCain. It's unlikely he duplicates this spread, if he wins at all. This worse-than-last-time trend has been primary-long for the primary favorite, which is not a good trend for someone who's been campaigning for the nomination for five years. Shouldn't his support go up with time? Anyway, look for how big his shortfall is tonight.

2. Can Paul steal a Michigan district or two? And from whom? If Romney and Santorum really are neck and neck in the district count, a Ron Paul theft of a couple districts that, probably, Santorum would win otherwise, could mean the difference between a Romney win in Michigan and a Santorum one.

3. There's a strong chance of a funny result tonight. In fact, let's make this my out-on-a-limb prediction. Romney wins the popular vote, but does not win more delegates than Santorum. Like I mentioned above, Michigan awards proportional delegates, but not via the popular vote. That means, much like the US electoral college, that the popular vote winner is not necessary the delegate winner. (To take this example to the extreme: imagine a candidate wins 100% of the vote in four districts, but barely loses the vote to one rival in the other ten. That candidate would win a huge majority of the popular vote, but lose the delegate split 20 to 10 (he'd reach 10 by winning both state-wide popular vote delegates).)

At the very least, it's nice to still have relevant primaries to follow. Let's see if Santorum can hang on!

See you on the flipside,

-IC

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