It won’t mean anything if he doesn’t win Ohio.
On one hand, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s win in Michigan was not by a wide margin. On the other hand, it was a much bigger and more important victory than former Senator Rick Santorum’s supporters, other than perhaps the clear-eyed Stacy McCain, let on. The most important question, however, is whether Romney’s Michigan victory will translate into momentum on Super Tuesday, in particular in the key state of Ohio.
Following the results in Michigan, Rick Santorum’s betting odds (at intrade.com) of becoming the Republican nominee fell from almost 12 percent to under 7 percent, with Romney’s odds moving back above the 80 percent threshold to about 82 percent. (Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are each trading around 3 percent.)
Mitt Romney beat Rick Santorum in Michigan by just over 3 percent, at 41 percent to 38 percent, with Ron Paul coming in third at 11.6 percent and Newt Gingrich fourth with 6.5 percent.
The Santorum spin, as Quin Hillyer dutifully put forward, will be that Romney had to spend a lot of time and money to win his home state by only three percent, and that the two will probably split the state’s 30 delegates evenly.
This line of argument, while factual, masks a very bad night for Santorum and a big victory for Romney.
For about 10 days, until less than a week ago, Santorum led Romney in the RealClearPolitics average of polls of Michigan primary with an edge between 5 and 9 percent for most of that time and a few individual polls showing advantages of 9, 10, and 15 points.
To lose a lead this big in a week is surprising even in a primary season as chaotic as this one, particularly following the recent Santorum trifecta of victories in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota which added some octane to his electoral fuel.
Nearly as important as the fact that Santorum lost after having that lead is that he lost despite appealing to Democrat voters. Not only did Santorum target a “get out and vote against Romney” robo-call to Democrats — a fact that will certainly be used against Santorum by Romney and others in future contests — but Democratic strategists and radio show hosts also encouraged their fellow party members to vote for Santorum.
According to ABC News, “About 10 percent of the state’s primary voters on Tuesday were Democrats, exit polls show. And they voted overwhelmingly for Santorum, with 53 percent picking the former senator versus the 17 percent who chose Romney.”
Romney will point out that if only Republicans had voted in the Republican primary, his margin of victory would have been more than twice as large, at around 7 percent.
Santorum will argue that his getting Democrat votes shows that he is electable in the general election. But nobody should (or will) believe that line. Most Democrats supported Santorum because they’re trying to damage Romney whom they consider to be more likely to beat President Obama in November, and because they’re trying to cause chaos within the GOP race.
One Democratic strategist interviewed on CNN said, “We are turning [Democrats] out and feel we can provide a massive jolt and scare to the GOP establishment here in the state and in Washington, D.C. When we are done they’ll be taking Pepto Bismol by the gallon at the RNC.”
Again, the significant participation of Democrats trying to derail Romney is a major talking point going forward for Romney who, despite the Democrat mischief, actually took a higher percentage of Michigan primary voters than he did in 2008.
The big question for Mitt Romney, then, is whether he has Michigan Momentum, or whether Super Tuesday, less than a week away on March 6, will provide just the latest mile of the political rumble strip we’ve been driving over for two months.
The Super Tuesday states, which account for 437 delegates, in order of their total delegate count, are: Georgia (76), Ohio (66), Tennessee (58), Virginia (49), Oklahoma (43), Massachusetts (41), Idaho (32), North Dakota (28), Alaska (27), and Vermont (7).
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