Monday, February 27, 2012

Mitt Romney's Unlucky Michigan

Romney fills the stadium!*

Tomorrow is the vote and Nate Silver calls it for Mitt Romney: even though he is only up by about 2-4 points the consistency in the 538 polling outcomes suggests that without some special circumstance (he lists about 10 of them in the article) Mitt is at 77% to win. But some people are saying it doesn't matter or that he has already lost!
Besides having to answer questions about whether he’s conservative enough, Romney now has to beat back suggestions that he can’t connect with blue-collar voters whose support he’d need in the fall. Michigan, with its high unemployment and battered manufacturing base, is filled with the kind of voters whose support will determine the presidency in November.
The fact is that unless early voting has been very, very kind to Romney or he substantially exceeds his polling, he's going to win--just not by a lot--which is going to make for a long, long campaign (the proportional votes mean that Santorum will get about half the delegates even if he doesn't win).

Of course there's the outside chance (Silver puts it at 23%) that Mitt might lose Michigan--if that happens, all bets are off: Romney's campaign would be in big trouble. That probably won't happen even if something like Operation Hilarity, the Kos-led attempt to get democrats to vote Santorum in order to shake up the race, were to produce better than expected results. The story here is not that Romney is winning--it's that he's not winning by much.

It's also that by winning--by shifting to the right against Santorum--he may be losing the general.He also said some weird stuff about loving Michigan because "the trees are the right height." What the heck is up with that? Apparently he's done it twice ...

Romney and His Unfortunate Relationship With Cars
As the focus has been on the auto-industry this week there has been a lot of car-talk. This is also the week the Daytona 500 was to open (it was rained out) and we got to see Romney in jeans and Daytona 500 jacket looking at a race car with Santorum's name on it:
Mitt Romney at Daytona
Honestly, are we supposed to believe that Romney is an avid NASCAR fan? That he regularly watches it? While having a Bud Lite with "the guys"? Considering that he's proud his wife "drives a couple of Cadillacs" it may be that the whole car-thing isn't his strong suit to begin with. To be certain, there's nothing wrong with Ann Romney owning or driving two high-end cars (just not at the same time, right?) but for Romney to be ostentatious with his wealth is not necessarily the best move for him.

More politically dangerous for Michigan in the general (but probably not the primary) was his 2008 "Let Detroit go Bankrupt" editorial (I can't find the original 2008 editorial--but I can find someone on the NYT being upset about it here). While the specifics are nuanced (Romney apparently thinks an actual bankruptcy restructuring would get rid of the unions altogether--but does not wish the industry destroyed) it doesn't sound so good: if someone who doesn't understand restructuring just reads the headline they may think Romney wants the end of American automotive manufacture. If the bailouts had been (as some, including myself) predicted unmitigated failures with chaos and catastrophe spreading up and down the whole manufacturing food chain Romney might've looked prescient. However, as it stands today--while far from an complete success the American auto industry seems to be doing okay.

In other words: it was a bet that didn't pay off and may have consequences in November.

Romney and cars have not been kind to each other (in his biographical ad he drives a high-end Chrysler that is, apparently, made in Canada ... so what? But it got him mocked).

Oh, and don't forget: when it comes to Romney and cars? Remember the dog thing. Yeah, whatever. Guy can't win.

What Do I Think?
I think that Santorum squandered a substantial lead over Romney and is paying the price. Romney is simply not a very strong Michigan candidate: the state has been hammered by layoffs, Romney's presence as a rich-guy who lays you off should be exploitable there even if its not done directly. I also question why Ron Paul, who's not remotely in the running in the state is running ads against Santorum there. The current theory is that it's a not-so-secret team-up to get Rand Paul on the ballot but I think that would damage Ron Paul's brand so who knows?

In any event: it's a nail-biter to watch and Santorum has pulled out some upsets already so Romney can't bet too confident. I'd love to see the horse-race get even more intense but instead I suspect the smart money says this is when Mitt Romney starts to pull away.

That said, I'm sure no matter how tomorrow turns out Mitt Romney will be glad to put Michigan in his rear-view.

* This photo, which has been shown widely as proof that Romney is drawing smaller-than-expected crowds, is a serious misinterpretation of the actual events. Romney sold out a smaller venue and moved to a larger one. The crowd was, considering the level of organization that drew it, quite large--but by moving to the stadium the "optics" (political-speak for 'how it looks') are terrible. The moral of the story is not that Mitt Romney is unpopular but rather that his team--an elite and presumably world-class team--need to be careful how they control the messaging.

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