Michigan's Presidential Primary Sweepstakes

Feb 9, 2012

Three days ago, it seemed that Michigan’s presidential primary would be regarded as kind of a sleepy afterthought. Mitt Romney’s campaign was once again relentlessly sailing on, after having demolished Newt Gingrich in Florida.

Since this was Romney’s birthplace, and had voted for him enthusiastically four years ago, he seemed unlikely to be seriously challenged here. Nor was he apt to get much momentum out of victory in a state where his father was an iconic governor years ago.

But that all changed this week, when Romney suffered a drubbing at the hands of Rick Santorum, of all people, losing a primary in Missouri and caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado, all on the same day. Suddenly, it seemed there might be a real race again.

That was followed yesterday by signs of an actual, if last-minute, Santorum organization being established in the state. Up to now, his Michigan campaign has consisted of a Facebook page.

If Santorum were to win here, it would do Romney  immense damage. The mere thought that he might be threatened in his home state by a candidate the vast majority of the voters had never heard two months ago is humiliating enough.

And, Santorum, as well as Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, know they don’t have to really win here to win here. They just have to do something called “beating the expectations game.” A real win for any of them would be finishing a credible second.

Yet the odds still heavily favor Romney being the nominee. He has worked longer, has much more money, and has seasoned campaign organizations on the ground virtually everywhere.

None of his opponents do, and when examined closely, none actually seem like credible nominees. Santorum is a former senator who was turned out of office by Pennsylvania voters in a stunning landslide. On social issues, he is far to the right of even most in his own party -- though shock waves went through his supporters when it was revealed last week that his wife formerly lived with an abortion provider forty years her senior. Newt Gingrich hasn’t held office in more than a decade and is an admitted adulterer with two bitter ex-wives. Ron Paul is a former libertarian who owns property jointly with the John Birch society and thinks most of modern government is unconstitutional.

These are not people one can imagine winning a general election. Romney is, and the GOP establishment knows it.

His biggest problem seems to be that even in his home state, people find him hard to warm up to. Republicans have another ominous problem. With the economy down and President Obama’s policies controversial, turnout in GOP primaries and caucuses should be soaring. It’s not.  Fewer people are voting than four years ago. In Missouri, Santorum won the primary by a landslide -- but he got fewer than ten percent of the number of votes Obama got there in November two thousand eight.  And Obama lost Missouri.

People are not turned on by these candidates, even though no campaign has been as much in our faces before.

Things are still relatively early, however, and for the next nineteen days, our state should be seeing a lot of these candidates.

Whatever comes next, it shouldn’t be dull.