Forget about Florida… What about the Michigan primary?

Jan 30, 2012

Unless you’ve been living on Mars, or, at least, somewhere where there isn’t radio, television or the internet, you’ve most likely heard MORE than enough about the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, the “game-changing” South Carolina primary and, of course, who could forget about tomorrow's all-important Florida primary.

Well, maybe you’re like me and Michigan Public Radio Network's Lansing Bureau Chief Rick Pluta and you feel like Michigan is getting left out of the conversation. Well, fear not, Pluta joined me on Friday to take a look at  Michigan’s Republican primary, scheduled for February 28th.

Romney has got this thing wrapped up... No, he doesn't. Oh wait, yes, he does.

We've got about a month to go before Michigan voters head to the polls for the state's presidential primary and it seems like one day we're hearing that Michigan's primary REALLY matters - that, indeed, the state will be influential in the Republican nominating process. But, then, just when we thought Michigan was important we hear the political pundits take back their political proclamations - claiming that no, in fact, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has got the state wrapped up. "I guess this is further evidence," Pluta says, "that anyone who is allowed to be a pundit should be required to wear something that says 'Don't follow me, I'm lost.'"

Michigan will matter... Really!

"Just a few weeks ago, we were written off," Pluta says, but, "things have changed so much since New Hampshire, we then had the Newt Gingrich surge... called Newtmentum. So, now... everyone is waiting to see what happens in Florida... and, then, we'll come out of that, and we'll go into Colorado and Minnesota - state's that really aren't as big as Michigan - and then, after February 7th, we have 21 days where there's nothing... and then the Michigan and Arizona primaries. And, Michigan WILL matter because momentum is everything going into Super Tuesday which happens shorty after Michigan and Arizona."

It's all about the "Big-Mo"... (Momentum, that is)

It's called the Big-Mo, or Big-Momentum, at least that's what political scientists and campaign strategists call it, and it's important. "I've talked to Republican strategists and they say, in a primary season, everything is about momentum. People are jumping in with whoever is surging and they're dropping off with whoever is lagging and so that's what you really, really want going into that all important Super Tuesday primary and Michigan is going to set the stage for that," Pluta explains. So, the idea is this: win Michigan and you go into Super Tuesday as a strong candidate with the air of inevitability.

Early primary = Fewer delegates

We reported quite a bit, last year, as the Michigan legislature tried to pick a date for the Michigan primary. Republican leaders wanted an early date for the primary - figuring that the earlier in the year the primary was held, the more influence the state would have in the national Republican campaign.

The only problem: Michigan broke the rules by holding an early primary. The date, "violates [Republican] Party rules and that will very likely result in Michigan's delegation to the Republican National Convention to be cut in half but, the [State] Legislature is really dominated by Romney supporters and what they wanted to do was... give Romney an early victory... that creates momentum going forward. It was actually considered more important for Romney to have that early momentum going ahead than to actually rack up as many delegates as he possibly could coming out of Michigan," Pluta explains.

Is Michigan 'in play'?

Most political pundits consider Michigan to be a 'blue state' when it comes to electing presidents. We went for then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008, Senator John Kerry in 2004, Vice President Al Gore in 2000, President Bill Clinton in 1996 (ok, I could go on but, I think you get the picture). So, if you're a betting person, you would probably assume that it was a fair bet that President Obama would win Michigan, again, in November.

But, there's a twist this year. A twist know as "the Native Son." Mitt Romney is a former-Michigander. His father, George Romney, was governor of the state from 1963-1969. This has led many to believe that if, in fact, Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination for President that Michigan will be 'in play' in November.

"One of the reasons why the Republican Party establishment in Michigan is so hot on Mitt Romney  is because they think because of his ties to the state that it does put Michigan into 'play.' But, there are things that President Obama also likes about Michigan. It may be the best economic story he has to tell in the country. There's the rescue and resurgence of the of the auto industry… We’ve got, in West Michigan in particular, an advanced battery industry that’s burgeoning and I’ve heard time and time again that it’s a story that the President likes to come to Michigan and tell to the rest of the country," Pluta explains.

And, interesting to note, as President Obama will most likely continue to talk about the auto industry come-back in the coming next months, many in the state are unhappy with Romney's 2008  Op-Ed in the The New York Times  titled, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."