Bloomberg News

Romney Pressed to Check Santorum’s Momentum in Must-Win Michigan

February 21, 2012

(For more 2012 campaign news, see ELECT.)

Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) -- For Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Michigan may be their political Gettysburg. If Romney loses in his native state, where his father was governor, it would be a defeat from which he might not recover.

The makeup of the Republican electorate, which is likely to be one-third Catholic and opposed to abortion, will help Santorum offset the allegiance Romney draws from supporters who delivered his 2008 presidential primary win over John McCain.

Anything short of a win in the Feb. 28 primary would be an embarrassment for Romney’s presidential ambitions.

“It would be a huge disappointment to Romney if he doesn’t win this state by a substantial margin,” said Bill Ballenger, editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter. “If he blows this, he’s really in trouble.”

This may be Santorum’s best chance to derail the candidate who Republicans perceived as having a better shot to win the nomination and challenge President Barack Obama in November because of an advantage in money and organization.

Romney, 64, won the state’s primary four years ago with 39 percent of the vote, defeating McCain, the party’s eventual nominee. He was born in the state and even showcased his roots here by announcing his first presidential bid five years ago this week from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.

Santorum, 53, has said his campaign will “plant our flag” in Michigan in the coming weeks, following victories in three state caucuses on Feb. 7. He’s scheduled to speak tomorrow to the Detroit Economic Club and to a county gathering of Republicans in suburban Detroit, near Romney’s boyhood home.

Battleground State

Michigan, a battleground state in the general election, was an obvious choice for the former Pennsylvania senator to place a greater emphasis than Arizona, which will also hold a primary on Feb. 28. Both states will help determine who has the momentum heading into 11 state contests on March 6, a day known as Super Tuesday because more than 400 delegates of the 1,144 needed for the nomination are at stake then.

Santorum’s fellow Catholics made up almost a third of Michigan’s Republican primary electorate in 2008, according to entrance polls at the time. Romney’s fellow Mormons, who showed loyalty to him in the Feb. 4 Nevada caucuses, represented 11 percent of the vote in Arizona’s primary four years ago.

While Santorum needs to collect enough campaign cash to stay competitive, he probably will benefit from a surge in support from conservatives outraged by Obama’s decision to force insurance companies to pay for contraceptives for employees of religious-affiliated institutions.

Anti-Abortion Stance

The Catholic Church equates contraception with abortion, and Santorum has made his faith and anti-abortion stance central to his political career. While Romney also stresses his opposition to abortion, he backed abortion rights during his campaigns for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in 1994 and successful run for governor in 2002.

“Santorum’s trump card is social and cultural issues, and Romney can’t get to the right of Santorum on those,” Ballenger said. “Michigan has one of the strongest right-to-life organizations in the country.”

Last year, state lawmakers passed a law banning so-called partial-birth abortions and some are pushing more anti-abortion legislation this year, including a “Choose Life” fundraising license plate and a ban on the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Almost two-thirds of state lawmakers are endorsed by an anti-abortion group called Right to Life of Michigan.

Contrast to Romney

Santorum also has talked about his working-class background and the importance of manufacturing. He often mentions a grandfather who worked in Pennsylvania’s coal mines.

That contrasts with Romney’s upscale Michigan upbringing. He was born in Detroit’s Harper University Hospital -- a point he made in an opinion piece he wrote for yesterday’s Detroit News about his opposition to the federal government’s 2009 automotive industry bailout -- although he spent the bulk of his childhood among the mansions of suburban Bloomfield Hills.

Romney’s boyhood home is set along a secluded and heavily wooded section of town, adjacent to the Bloomfield Hills Country Club. The area was quiet yesterday except for maintenance workers and cleaners coming and going. The home is less than a mile from the elite Cranbrook School that Romney attended.

Movement in Polls

Michigan polls have shown large movements in the race, mostly in Santorum’s direction.

A survey by Raleigh, North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling showed Santorum leading Romney, 39 percent to 24 percent, among likely primary voters. Representative Ron Paul of Texas was at 12 percent, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recorded 11 percent. The poll, taken Feb. 10-12, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

The primary is open, which will let independents and Democrats cast Republican ballots.

Although the Santorum and Romney campaigns both started running television advertising in Michigan yesterday, Romney will have the financial advantage because he has been a more successful fundraiser during the past year.

His campaign and its allies have shown a willingness to flood the airwaves with negative ads, a strategy that helped him overcome Gingrich’s lead in Florida to win the state’s Jan. 31 primary by 14 percentage points.

Through Feb. 12, a political action committee that backs Romney, Restore Our Future, had spent more than $246,000 in Michigan, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, a New York-based company that tracks advertising. The ads have run in television markets across the state, and the PAC plans to spend at least twice that much in the next week.

Known in Michigan

George Romney, the candidate’s deceased father, was a chief executive at the now-defunct American Motors Corp. and was the state’s governor during much of the 1960s.

“Mitt’s well-known through the state, obviously, and will play well through the state, but I think that Newt, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum will have messages that will gain them delegates in congressional districts,” Bobby Schostak, the Republican Party chairman in Michigan, told reporters in Washington on Feb. 8. “It’ll be a fight, and I think Romney will do well, but I also think the others have an opportunity.”

Schostak noted that Michigan will award the bulk of its 30 delegates by congressional district, which will encourage the candidates to tailor their appeals around the state.

Santorum has stressed a proposal to zero out the federal tax rate for manufacturers, a notion that could be popular in Michigan, where workers have been hit by downsizing and the unemployment rate is 9.3 percent.

‘Natural Territory’

Michael Traugott, a political science professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said he expects Santorum will campaign extensively in western Michigan, where more Republicans focus on social issues such as abortion.

“That is natural territory for Santorum because of the doubts about Romney’s conservative bona fides,” Traugott said.

Romney, a former business executive, did well in that area in 2008 when he presented himself as a more conservative alternative to McCain.

Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, has said he plans to endorse a presidential candidate in the next week. Geralyn Lasher, his communications director, said he wasn’t available for an interview.

Auto Bailout

Obama, who defeated McCain in Michigan in 2008 by 57 percent to 41 percent, has visited the state to make the case that his decision to bail out two of the big three automakers benefited workers across the industrial Midwest.

Still, the federal government’s lifeline to the auto industry may not be fodder for much debate in the state until the general election, since both Romney and Santorum opposed it.

“I don’t think it will be an issue in the primary at all,” said David Doyle, a Lansing-based Republican strategist.

More than a quarter of Michigan Republican primary participants in 2008 were from households that included a union member, exit polling showed.

With 9.9 million residents, Michigan is the nation’s eighth-most populous state. Its population dropped about half a percentage point between 2000 and 2010 -- making it the only state to show a net loss during the decade -- as manufacturing job cuts meant workers moved elsewhere.

The Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States index shows a state in decline since Obama took office, when compared with other state economies. The data shows Michigan’s overall economic health fell 1.3 percent since the first quarter of 2009, when Obama took office, to the third quarter of last year, including a 13.7 percent decline in home prices.

--With assistance from Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Greg Giroux in Washington. Editors: Mark McQuillan, Jim Rubin.

To contact the reporter on this story: John McCormick in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net


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