Long, Divisive White House Fight Is Sapping Republicans

Mitt Romney's narrow win in Michigan is unlikely to ease lingering doubts about his candidacy or head off the possibility of a long and divisive presidential nominating fight that is damaging Republican chances in November's general election.

The close result in Michigan at least temporarily returned Romney to his frontrunner status and averted an outbreak of panic among Republicans worried that staunch social conservative Rick Santorum could doom the party in the November election.

But Romney's struggle to narrowly capture the state where he was once a big favorite highlighted questions about his own inability to connect with voters, and simply shifts the fight down the road to a new round of battlegrounds in 10 "Super Tuesday" states next week.

[Romney's] struggles to connect with social conservatives in states like South Carolina, which he lost to rival Newt Gingrich, and with blue-collar Midwestern conservatives in places like Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota, where Santorum beat him, have raised doubts among senior Republicans about his strength against Obama in November.

But he will face questions about his general election viability against Obama until he can prove his appeal to conservatives and win a state in the South, the Republican general election stronghold.

"Until he figures out how to communicate with conservatives, he's going to have to keep fighting state by state and really having to slog it out to the nomination," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said.

Read more from John Whitesides at Reuters

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Romney Prevails In Michigan

Super Tuesday (March 6) is next up, and all eyes will be on Ohio. Politico's Jonathan Martin has more:

Mitt Romney may have won ugly in Michigan, but his narrow victory will temper the mounting criticism of his candidacy, even though his resilience is about to be tested again in some of the biggest prizes of Super Tuesday.

By winning in Michigan and cruising in Arizona, the establishment darling has reasserted his status as the Republican favorite. It may be a slower and messier process than Romney and his aides would prefer, but the former Massachusetts governor still looks on track to eventually capture the GOP nomination.

Super Tuesday offers some promising states for the front-runner (Massachusetts, Vermont, Idaho and Virginia, the last of which doesn’t include Santorum or Gingrich on the ballot) but also features some less hospitable terrain (Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Dakota).

The most important state next week, however, may be just to the south of here — and not just because it offers 66 delegates. A Romney win in Ohio, another heartland state and a quadrennial presidential battleground, would send a loud message that he can beat Santorum in a Rust Belt state that the son of Detroit can’t claim as home.


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Nate Silver: Michigan GOP Primary, A True Tossup

From The New York Times' Nate Silver:

People sometimes apply the term “tossup” a bit too broadly, using it to refer to anything close enough that they don’t want to render a prediction about it.

In Michigan, however, the term is appropriate. Rick Santorum, who once trailed Mitt Romney badly in the state, then surged to a clear lead there, then saw Mr. Romney regain his footing and pull back ahead, appears to have some late momentum in the race — perhaps just enough to win, and perhaps not.

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Romney: Santorum Using 'Dirty Tricks' To Win Michigan Primary

Mitt Romney charged Rick Santorum with using "dirty tricks" to win Michigan's Tuesday primary.

Romney was referring to a robocall, funded by the Santorum campaign, encouraging Democrats in Michigan to support the former Pennsylvania senator. The state's open primary allows voters to choose either party's primary ballot, regardless of initial party affiliation. 

With polls showing the race in Michigan too close to call, the Romney camp has zeroed in on the robocall, blasting out a memo showing Republicans in the state support Romney and putting the candidate, who had been avoiding talking with the media, out front.

A loss in Michigan would be devastating for Romney, who grew up in the state and whose father served as governor. Romney won the state by nine points in the 2008 GOP primary.

When asked about the criticism during a campaign stop in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Tuesday, Santorum said Romney should stop complaining.

"We're going to get voters that we need to be able to win this election. And we're going to do that here in Michigan today," Santorum said, according to The Associated Press.

But, according to GOP strategist Ford O'Connell, no amount of spin could help Romney if he ends up losing his home state, especially after his campaign made clear through spending significant time and resources in Michigan that a win was important.

"I think Romney's biggest mistake was doubling down on Michigan as his home state, and as a result, instead of shaping the narrative, he's being driven by it," O'Connell said.

O'Connell also dismissed a suggestion by Romney supporter and Michigan GOP National Committeeman Saul Anuzis that Romney could still "win" Michigan despite a narrow loss in the popular vote by racking up more delegates via the state's district-level allocation.

"Romney really needs to win both the popular vote and the delegates in Michigan," O'Connell said. "Romney gives us the best chance to win, but the more he has to reach, grab and dig, the worse it looks for the general election."

Read more from Justin Sink at The Hill

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As Michigan Votes, Buckeye Battle Looms

As voters go to the polls in Michigan, the candidates and campaigns are already focused on Ohio which is shaping up to be the next major battleground as it votes in a week on March 6th as part of Super Tuesday.

Rick Santorum is making a quick detour Tuesday from his campaigning in Michigan for an afternoon rally in Perrysburg, Ohio. And the conservative Susan B. Anthony List will sponsor an Ohio leg of their bus tour supporting Santorum. On Wednesday, Mitt Romney's first stop after will be a rally in Toledo, Ohio, followed by a town hall in Bexley, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus.

Since Ohio is the next Midwestern state up for grabs, analysts said it will be key for each candidate.

"If Santorum can demonstrate a Midwestern weakness for Romney, then he could get an influx of resources and this could drag out much longer. Ohio is all about general election electability whereas Michigan is likely to be Obama country in the general (at least as of right now)," Ford O'Connell, a Republican political consultant, said.

Read more from Kevin Bohn at CNN

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GOP Frets Romney’s Conservative Tack Could Hurt In November General Election

Republicans are worried that Mitt Romney’s increasingly conservative rhetoric on a number of hot-button issues could hurt him in the general election.

Their fear is that while Romney’s position on matters like immigration, collective bargaining and social issues could boost him among conservative primary voters, thereby getting him the nomination, it could come back to haunt him with swing-state voters during the general election.

“He has to think about his words [coming] back at him in the general election,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “Job No. 1 is to win nomination, but the question is, at what cost?”

The chief worry among Republicans is Romney’s stance on immigration.

“My biggest concern is looking at how immigration is going to play,” said O’Connell. “Along with independents, I think Hispanics are going to pretty much decide this election. In places like Virginia, Florida and Western states like Nevada, his immigration rhetoric could very well be the difference in a close election.”

O’Connell said unions were going to work hard to beat Republicans anyway, but that Romney’s rhetoric was further antagonizing them — as well as blue-collar Midwestern voters who weren’t in unions.

“The union rhetoric could be a deciding difference in Ohio, and that’s what Romney really has to watch,” he said. “It could really come back to hurt him.”

Read more from Cameron Jospeh at The Hill

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Will Democrats Propel Santorum To Victory In Michigan?

The silly season just got sillier. But given how close the battle in Michigan is leading up to primary day (Feb. 28), something tells me Team Romney doesn't find this the least bit funny. On the other hand, Team Santorum rightly knows that Michigan is tanamount to a "must-win" contest. CNN's Jim Acosta has more:

“On Tuesday, join Democrats who are going to send a loud message to Massachusetts Mitt Romney,” says an unidentified voice in a Santorum robo call to Michigan voters.

The Santorum robo call attempts to rally Democrats with a reference to Romney’s now well-known opposition to the bailout for U.S. automakers.

Michigan’s primary is open to all voters. For weeks, liberal bloggers have called on Democrats to cross over Tuesday to support Santorum as a way to damage Romney’s chances of capturing the GOP nomination.

A Santorum spokesman defended the overt attempt to lure voters from outside the Republican Party, saying the former Pennsylvania senator’s message “resonates with conservatives and Reagan Democrats alike.”

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Understanding Michigan's Delegate Math

Forget the final vote totals on Tuesday night, it is the delegate math that matters in the Wolverine State GOP presidential primary. The New York Times' Nate Silver explains:

Twenty-eight of the 30 delegates in Michigan’s Republican primary will be awarded, two at a time, to the winner in each of the state’s 14 Congressional districts; only two will go to the candidate who takes the most votes statewide.

There are competing theories about just whom this might favor. One hypothesis holds that although Mitt Romney might dominate in Detroit’s wealthy suburbs, he is either an underdog or no better than even money against Rick Santorum pretty much everywhere else in the state. Since winning a district by 20 percentage points does you no more good in the delegate count than winning one  by 2 points, that means Mr. Romney could have some wasted votes.

The other theory holds that Mr. Romney’s voters tend to be concentrated in districts where turnout will be low. This is not necessarily a reflection of subpar enthusiasm for his campaign; instead, it’s because some of these wealthy suburban areas are paired with cities like Detroit and Ann Arbor that vote heavily Democratic. Therefore, Mr. Romney could win a Congressional district where 15,000 people turn out to vote in the Republican primary, but lose another one where 75,000 do. But both count equally on the delegate scoreboard.

Which of these two theories is liable to prevail? If you go through the state’s Congressional districts one at a time, it looks as if both have some merit.

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Romney, Santorum Lead Obama In Swing State Poll

From Susan Page at USA Today.

In the poll, Obama lags the two leading Republican rivals in the 12 states likely to determine the outcome of a close race in November:

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum tops Obama 50%-45% in the swing states. Nationwide, Santorum's lead narrows to 49%-46%.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney edges Obama 48%-46% in the swing states. Nationwide, they are tied at 47% each.

The swing states poll of 1,137 registered voters was taken Feb. 14-21. In addition, a national survey of 881 registered voters was taken Feb. 20-21. The margin of error for each is +/-4 percentage points.

The battleground states surveyed include Michigan — where Tuesday's primary has become a critical showdown between Romney and Santorum — as well as Ohio and Virginia, which vote next week on Super Tuesday. The other swing states are Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Nevada,New HampshireNew MexicoNorth Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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Romney Takes Lead In Michigan, Projected To Win By Narrow Margin

From political prognosticator Nate Silver at The New York Times.

The FiveThirtyEight forecast model now projects a win for Mr. Romney by about four points in Michigan, roughly bisecting the Rasmussen Reports and Mitchell Research polls. Although that is inherently a fairly small margin, it is more meaningful given that there are just four full days of campaigning until Michigan votes; the model makes Mr. Romney about a 2:1 favorite in the state.


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