Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Romney Wins Michigan Primary!

Mitt Romney secured his first primary victory in 2008's topsy-turvy race for the GOP nomination. The New York Times reports:

Mitt Romney, seizing on his personal ties to a state where his father made his family’s political fortune, captured a must-win victory in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, claiming the first major trophy for his ailing campaign and throwing the wide-open Republican field into further disarray.

Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, led Senator John McCain by 9 percentage points. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, the winner of the Iowa caucus, conceded after polling at 17 percent of the vote.

In the Democratic race with 14 percent of precincts reporting, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton won by a commanding margin in a field that did not include her closest competitors, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and John Edwards. However, about a third of voters in the Democratic primary opted to allow the party to choose uncommitted delegates to the national convention, effectively a vote against Ms. Clinton.

“It’s a victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism,” Mr. Romney told The Associated Press. “The people of Michigan said they believe in someone who is going to fight for them.”

Mr. Romney’s victory guarantees a headache for political watchdogs as the competitive Republican field heads to South Carolina for its Saturday primary. Mr. Romney, Mr. McCain and Mr. Huckabee have each won a major primary or caucus, leaving the party without a clear frontrunner.

Another top Republican, former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, is putting most of his immediate efforts into Florida, which will hold its primary on Jan. 29.

Mr. McCain, of Arizona, conceded the Michigan race, but he told supporters in South Carolina that he would not be deterred in his campaign.

“Starting tomorrow, we’re going to win South Carolina, and we’re going to go on and win the nomination," Mr. McCain said.

Mr. Huckabee has also flown to South Carolina, a state he is looking to win with support from his evangelical base.

Mr. Romney, who was born and raised in Michigan, used his final campaign appearances to remind voters of his personal ties to the state, where his father served three terms as governor. He promised, if elected president, to “not rest” until the state’s battered economic fortunes have been restored.

The message appeared to resonate with Republican voters, more than half of whom said in exit polls that their vote was driven by overwhelming economic concerns. A majority of those polled after they voted said a candidate’s position on the economy was more important than the war in Iraq, illegal immigration or terrorism. The exit poll was conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the television networks and the Associated Press.

Early reports of sluggish voter turnout may also have helped Mr. Romney’s cause. Freezing temperatures, an early morning snowfall, and a dearth of Democratic contenders on the ballot may have affected turnout, according to a state official.

It appeared from early returns that much of Mr. Romney’s support came from the three-county Detroit metropolitan area, home of many well-off Republicans and where the Romney name is better known from his father, George, being governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969.

Surveys of Michigan voters leaving the polls on Tuesday also showed that Mr. Romney did well among those who decided in the last day or two, validating his strategy of saturating the state with advertising and personal appearances over the last five days. Mr. Romney aired almost twice as many television ads as his two leading opponents combined.

In exit polls, more than half of Republican voters in Michigan said their vote was driven by overwhelming economic concerns. A majority of those polled after they voted said a candidate’s position on the economy was more important than the war in Iraq, illegal immigration or terrorism. The exit poll was conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the television networks and the Associated Press.

While the voters said a candidate’s position on the issues was more important than a candidate’s personal qualities, more than 4 in 10 voters said it was more important to them that a candidate share their values than be able to win in November against a Democrat or have the right experience.

About a quarter of the voters said it mattered a great deal to them that a candidate shared their religious beliefs.

On the issues of abortion, about 10 percent of Republican voters said it should be legal in all cases, 25 percent said abortion should be legal in most cases, about 35 percent said it should be illegal in most cases and about 25 percent said abortion should be illegal in all cases.

A plurality of voters said immigrants should be deported to the country they came from rather than be allowed to stay as temporary workers or offered a chance to apply for citizenship.

A majority of voters approve of the war in Iraq. When asked to describe their feelings about the Bush administration, they were closely divided.

Michigan’s primary occurred much earlier than usual this year, and many residents interviewed over the past few days said they were not even aware there was an election on Tuesday. Mrs. Clinton is expected to lead the pack on the Democratic side because she was the only major candidate whose name is on the ballot. Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards withdrew their names at the request of the national Democratic Party, which stripped Michigan of its delegates because the early date of its primary violated party rules.

But state party leaders said they believed the Michigan delegate slates would be seated.

The race here in Michigan forced the Republican candidates to focus chiefly on the dismal economy of the state, where thousands of manufacturing jobs have evaporated over the last several years and where the unemployment rate, 7.4 percent, is the highest in the nation.

Mr. McCain may have hurt himself here when he declared in a debate in South Carolina last week that because of the restructuring of the global automobile industry many of those jobs would never be restored in Michigan.
As I noted in the update to my previous post, Romney's optimistic message of economic revitalization appealed to Michigan voters who have been battered by economic transformation and the housing collapse (thanks to Elaine, over at Elaine's Place, for providing me with inside information on Michigan's housing market).

There's a lesson of caution for John McCain's straight-talk campaign: He's right that most jobs lost to global economic competition and market restructuring won't be coming back to the Great Lakes region. But his message was easily attacked by Romney as "economic pessimism." McCain's realism plays better in foreign policy than in economic affairs, where people need a voice of hope to lift their spirits.

I'll be looking at the polling data and political analyses over the next couple of days, but even without checking Memeorandum, I predict that the Daily Kos netroots will take credit for an independent crossover impact in blunting the McCain momentum (which early voter turnout data shows to be false).

Now, while I think McCain's right to focus on the next stop in South Carolina, the bigger impact of the Michigan results is to topple Mike Huckabee from his top-tier perch secured by his win in Iowa.

Romney - with his Michigan take - will have a big push heading into South Carolina. A Huckabee win in the Palmetto state is the former Arkansas governor's do-or-die sitiuation. Fred Thompson's down but not out, and he too will have to secure a victory or a strong second place showing in the first Southern primary to have any hope of being competitive heading into February 5.

John McCain, fresh off his New Hampshire comeback, has the wind of national public opinion at his back - and note that national polls show way more diversity of opinion than the views coming out of the Wolverine State, so it remains to be seen how substantial a bounce Romney gets heading into the later contests.

What's not in doubt is this is the most exciting GOP nomination process in decades!

The "Super Tuesday" round of nominating contests will truly be a crowning event if one of the GOP candidates taps some compelling theme to carry him to victory in a plurality of states, especially the big states like California and New York.

Don't forget, Florida votes before then. Maybe Florida will indeed provide Rudy Giuliani with the bounce that he needs to avoid an utter collapse, although things aren't looking good.

Photo: New York Times