Strong Challenge to Romney on Home Turf
February 21, 2012
For the presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney, it was never
supposed to work like this. Romney’s backers always saw his home state
of Michigan as a firewall, their “Ace in the Hole,” if you will, in a
long and drawn out primary election battle.
But now Romney faces the fight of his life in a state where he grew up
and where his father, George, served as a popular governor in the 1960’s
before making a run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has emerged as Romney’s main
challenger in Michigan and in national polls as well. Some national
polls show Santorum with a big edge over Romney while his margin in
Michigan is somewhat smaller. Small enough, in fact, that the expected
tsunami of anti-Santorum ads funded by the Romney campaign and its
Super-Pac allies could wind up turning the tide, much as Romney was able
to do to Newt Gingrich in Florida after Gingrich won a rousing victory
in South Carolina.
But the question is will the Romney campaign’s attacks on Santorum work
as effectively in Michigan as they have in other states? Santorum
appears to be connecting with conservative voters in Michigan and
elsewhere because of his strong views on social issues, especially his
opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
Remember, Michigan is the home of the so-called “Reagan Democrats” of
the 1980s, voters who for years had supported Democratic candidates but
who became disillusioned with the party after they perceived a leftward
shift in the 1960’s and 1970’s. These Reagan Democrats believe in
traditional values and often want a candidate who goes beyond the
economic arguments that Romney has been trying to make.
Santorum seems to be hitting his stride in appealing to conservatives
who want a more “in your face” candidate to take on President Obama in
the November general election. Romney has simply never been that
candidate for many conservatives, and it seems the harder he tries to be
that candidate, the more conservatives distrust him.
The evolution of Santorum as Romney’s main challenger follows a pattern
begun in 2011 when conservatives began shopping for an alternative to
Romney right from the start, fearful that Romney’s political career in
Democratic Massachusetts was simply not the pedigree they were willing
to embrace in 2012.
Romney continues to have the edge in fundraising, organization and
support from the Republican Party establishment. But if Santorum can
pull off an upset win in Michigan next Tuesday, it would change the
entire dynamic of a Republican race that has been anything but
predictable since last year.
Dark Horses and a Brokered Convention
A lot of political analysts dismiss the thought, but even the prospect
of a Santorum victory in Michigan has made a lot of Republican Party
leaders very uneasy. Some have even suggested the possibility that a
Santorum upset in Romney’s home state would so scramble the Republican
race that it would increase the chances that some other prominent
Republicans might change their minds and get into the race. Among those
included in this somewhat far-fetched scenario are former Florida
governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Indiana
Governor Mitch Daniels.
All three decided against a run for president this year and none have
given any indication of changing that stance no matter how the
Republican nomination battle proceeds. But a Santorum victory in
Michigan would give pause to those Republican leaders who believe his
nomination would lead to an easy second term win for President Obama and
would, at least, increase the speculation that the party would welcome
someone else getting in the race.
The problem with all this is, of course, that it takes money,
organization and most importantly, desire, to launch a presidential
campaign, especially on short notice. And none of the gentlemen
mentioned above have shown any inclination toward throwing their hat in
impact from a Santorum victory in Michigan would likely be increased
speculation about the possibility of a brokered national nomination
convention in Tampa, Florida, at the end of August.
Neither major political party has had a national nominating convention
go beyond the first ballot since the early 1950’s. But if neither
Santorum nor Romney can break out in a significant way in the weeks
ahead, and both Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul remain in the race and siphon
off votes from the top two contenders, the chances could grow that the
nomination won’t be settled until the convention in August, something
hard to imagine in the modern era of political campaigns.
So hard to imagine, in fact, that the experts and analysts pretty much
regard it as a pipedream. But it would be a dream come true for the
cable and broadcast TV networks that would actually have a reason to
cover the ins and outs of the Republican convention for days on end.