Commentary: The presidential race is on

Apr 13, 2012

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said something that wasn’t true yesterday. Not anything that could get him removed from office or disbarred, mind you. But something untrue nevertheless.

He was speaking, not as attorney general, but in his capacity as state chairman of the Romney campaign. He said that this state was up for grabs in the election, adding “Michigan’s a jump ball state, and it’s not been that way since 1988.

Well, it is true that for now, anyway, both sides are pledging to wage tough, vigorous and expensive campaigns here.

And something else the attorney general alluded to is also true. No Republican presidential candidate has carried Michigan since 1988, the party’s longest losing streak here in history.

But it isn’t true that Michigan hasn’t been in play. In fact, it was heavily contested in 1992, the first time Bill Clinton was elected. George W. Bush fought hard and expected to win Michigan both times he ran, and came fairly close once.

Even John McCain started out four years ago with high hopes for Michigan, the state which had given him an impressive presidential primary victory back in 2000.

But in a much-criticized move, his collapsing campaign abandoned the state in October four years ago, which demoralized Republicans and probably cost them several other offices.

Well, this week it became certain that barring a cataclysm, the major party nominees will be President Obama and Willard Mitt Romney, the first Presidential nominee in history to have been born in Detroit. In fact, he’s only the second one to have been born in Michigan. Can you name the first?

If you said Gerald Ford, you lose. President Ford was born in Nebraska. The right answer is their fellow Republican Thomas E. Dewey. However, don’t expect Romney to mention Dewey much during the campaign; he was nominated twice and lost both times.

The question is, can Mitt Romney do any better? Nobody knows. The conventional wisdom is that this will be a close presidential election. Top Republicans do think that Romney can bear President Obama. But I can tell you that privately, they don’t really expect Romney to win here. They will never admit that publicly. But they know that thanks in part to the economy, this has become a basically Democratic state.

Mitt Romney also opposed the auto bailout; there is lots of footage of him saying so, and that is likely the kiss of death. The only way he is apt to carry Michigan is if the Obama campaign  completely collapses the way President Carter’s did in 1980.

Yet Mitt Romney is unlikely to give up in this state, at least not openly. McCain’s decision to abandon ship probably cost Republicans a seat in Congress. If Democrats gain as many Michigan House seats as they did four years ago. it will end Governor Snyder’s ability to get his programs approved.

There’s also a U.S. Senate seat at stake. So you can expect to see both candidates here this fall, at least for awhile, but if you want to see them late in the game, here’s a tip.

Plan on spending time in Toledo. Ohio is where this race is likely to be decided, and at the very least, we’ll have a ringside seat.