Monday, January 14, 2008

Michigan is Do-or-Die for Romney

A victory for Mitt Romney in tomorrow's Michigan primary is a do-or-die situation, as the New York Times reports:

With economic issues at the top of the agenda, the leading Republican presidential candidates set off Monday on a final flurry of campaigning in Michigan ahead of the state’s primary that could again shake up a remarkably fluid Republican field.

Recent polls have indicated the contest is neck-and-neck between former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Senator John McCain of Arizona, with former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas further back.

Mr. Romney’s advisers have acknowledged that the state’s primary is essentially do-or-die for him after successive losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has been campaigning heavily throughout the state, emphasizing his childhood in Michigan and delivered a policy speech on Monday focused on aiding the automotive industry.

In his speech at the Detroit Economic Club, Mr. Romney took Washington lawmakers to task for being a “disinterested” in Michigan’s plight and imposing upon the state’s automakers a litany of “unfunded mandates,” including a recent measure signed by President Bush that requires the raising of fuel efficiency standards.

He criticized Mr. McCain and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, for a bill that they have pushed to cap and trade greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Romney asserted that the bill would cause energy costs to rise and would ultimately be a “job killer.”

Mr. Romney further pledged to bring together in his first 100 days representatives from the automotive industry, unions, Congress and the state of Michigan to come up with a plan to “rebuild America’s automotive leadership” and to increase to $20 billion, from $4 billion, the federal support for research and development in energy, fuel technology, materials science and automotive technology.

“There are some people who don’t think there’s a future for the domestic automobile industry,” Mr. Romney said. “They think the industry and its jobs are gone forever. They are wrong.”

Mr. Romney has hit hard at Mr. McCain for saying that Michigan’s manufacturing jobs are gone and are not coming back. At an event with more than 1,000 people at Kalamazoo Christian High School on Monday morning, Mr. McCain attempted to counter the accusations that he is a pessimist by saying that he would focus on job retraining programs to help the thousands who have lost their jobs in the state.

“We’re not going to leave these people behind,” Mr. McCain said, according to the Associated Press.

McCain had some rough campaigning over the weekend, getting booed over immigration at some events.

Yet polling shows an extremely tight race in the Wolverine State, and McCain even leads in the latest Zogby tracking poll (via Memeorandum):

Arizona Sen. John McCain holds a slim lead over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney heading into the Republican primary election in Michigan, a new Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll shows.

The survey shows McCain with a 27% to 24% edge over Romney, with Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee trailing with 15% support. McCain, fresh off a 37% to 32% victory in New Hampshire over Romney, is battling the former governor on what is essentially Romney’s home turf, having grown up in the Detroit suburbs while his father, George, was governor of the state in the early 1960s.

The Zogby findings are a little at odds with the weekend's trend toward Romney, but in the case of a large independent cross-vote to McCain, the Arizona Senator may carry the day.

See Captain Ed's analysis, in any case:

Two arguments can be made from these results. The Romney argument will focus on the response of Republicans to the candidate. They will argue that their lead among Republicans shows that Mitt represents conservatives best in the race, and that McCain will shift the party to the Left. They can point to New Hampshire for support, where CNN's exit polling had Mitt winning the plurality of "very conservative" voters 43%-18% over McCain, while McCain won the plurality of "moderate" and "somewhat liberal" Granite State voetrs (both in the mid-40% range).

McCain's team will press the electability of their candidate. Having the ability to draw Democrats and independents constitutes a feature and not a bug, they will argue. The Republican nominee has to be able to beat Hillary Clinton in the general election, or perhaps Barack Obama, and recent polling shows him best positioned to do both. Romney's limited draw from the center will be their message if McCain wins Michigan.

Which will it be -- electability or policy reliability? On the latter, McCain can be expected to point out his 82.3% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. That stacks up against Fred Thompson's lifetime 86, and Ron Paul's 76. (Romney, Giuliani, and Huckabee never served in Congress and have no ACU rating.) Will that give conservatives a big enough fig leaf to vote for electability? Expect that to be the central Republican debate over the next couple of weeks, which is at least better than what roils the Democrats lately.

As I've noted here, here, and here, national polling trends favor McCain.

A Romney win tomorrow will staunch the flow a bit, but a knockout for any of the candidates will have to wait until February 5. In California, one of the biggest, trendsetting states voting that day, McCain was ahead this afternoon with 20 percent over Romney's 16 percent.

It's obviously early, and the latter poll results are based on a small sample with a high number of undecideds (6 out of 10), although voters judged McCain the most electable Republican by far.

Photo Credit: New York Times