Commentary
11:20 am
Tue February 14, 2012

Will Mitt Romney Lose?

The headlines were horrifying yesterday for Mitt Romney supporters. One new poll had Romney trailing Rick Santorum in Michigan, Romney’s birthplace, by six points -- thirty-three to twenty-seven. The other poll was worse. It had Romney behind by fifteen points -- thirty-nine to twenty-four. Those are staggering numbers. And anything but the kind of Valentine the former Massachusetts governor expected to receive. How could this be?

Romney won the primary here four years ago, even though he soon lost the nomination to John McCain. Back then, almost nobody in Michigan had heard of Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator voted out of office in a landslide.

Actually, almost nobody outside politics had heard of Santorum two months ago. If Mitt Romney does lose Michigan’s presidential primary two weeks from today, his campaign is most likely finished -- especially if he loses it by a fifteen-point landslide.

But that is almost certainly not going to happen. These polls don’t exactly mean what they seem.  On one hand, there is better news for Romney than meets the eye. But these polls do indicate something very ominous for his campaign.

First, the good news. These polls are virtually worthless as an indicator of who will win Michigan’s presidential primary two weeks from today. The one that has him way behind is especially suspect.

The sample is too small, and it was done by “automated telephone response,” a technique guaranteed to make people who have anything like a life hang up before the robot interview starts.

Polling in primary elections is especially hard to begin with because the voter pool is so much different. Plus, there’s another problem: Most people are just not that in to politics. Now, I have been a political junkie my entire life. I can name the ten states Wendell Willkie won in 1940, and the ten Michael Dukakis won in 1988.

I even know Richard Nixon’s birthday. But I know most people aren’t like that at all. (Thank God.)They barely pay attention till the last week or so. Incidentally, just one week ago, another poll showed Romney ahead of Santorum by more than two to one. What happened since? Well. Santorum won three states on a single day.

People vaguely noticed. But starting about now, Michigan will start paying more attention, and all four remaining GOP candidates will spend a lot of time here. You’ll see these numbers change and change again.

In the end, Romney is probably still the favorite to win Michigan. Yet the fact that he has to fight hard for it isn’t a good sign. One thing is clear. The idea that he is Michigan‘s favorite son exists mainly in political writers‘ heads. Though born here, the former Massachusetts governor left for good nearly half a century ago. His father, George Romney, stopped being governor before most people in Michigan started being born.

Mitt Romney has been running for president for five years now. He has money and a well-oiled organization. But he still hasn’t been able to close the sale, in his party or in the country. Nationwide, primary voter turnout, expected to rise, has been mostly down.

All this puts our state more in the spotlight than expected. Politically speaking, we should be in for an intense few weeks.