Tag Archives: Michigan primary

Assessing What the Media Says: Looking Back at Michigan and Ahead to SuperTuesday

How should we interpret Tuesday’s primary results in Michigan?  It is always useful to compare what the data suggests happened versus what the media reports.   The two narratives do not always agree, as I hope to show in this post.  And that serves as an early warning as we look ahead to the media coverage of Super Tuesday, coming up on March 6.

Media claim #1: Rick Santorum, in losing the Michigan primary to Romney, essentially blew his chance to win this nomination.  That’s the verdict of Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe” fame, who reportedly said yesterday:  “If Santorum had beaten Romney in Michigan, it would have shaken the race up … He had his chance. He blew his chance. … I hate to upset people, but the fact is: Romney has all the built-in advantages. [Santorum] had one chance to take him down. And he blew it.”  In the same vein, the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza claims that Romney narrowly averted a defeat that would have essentially ended his candidacy:  “And when Romney needed to win — a loss in Michigan would have crippled his campaign beyond repair (or close to it) — he did.”

Really?  Scarborough and Cilizza would have us believe that if 2% of Romney’s popular vote switched to Santorum, giving Rick the victory at 40%-39%, Romney’s campaign would have ended?  And that for want of that 2% switch, Santorum blew his one chance to beat Romney?  I’m not buying it.  In fact, I believe a narrow Santorum win in Michigan would have made absolutely no difference to the outcome of this nomination contest.  Remember, although Romney beat Santorum 41%-38% in the popular vote, they split Michigan’s 30 delegates, 15 apiece.  Even with an additional 2% in the popular vote, Santorum would still likely have split the delegates with Mitt – and at this point that’s what these contests are all about: getting delegates.

Nor do I see any evidence that Santorum “blew” his chance. In fact, this was his strongest performance to date; he won 377,000 votes and 38% of the popular vote – the best performance for him in any contest so far.  Mitt, meanwhile, did what he’s done all campaign: held his own by virtue of strong support among upper-income, older and more moderate Republican voters, but without showing much evidence that he can expand his coalition.  To his credit, he increased his vote totals and percentage over 2008, when he won with 39% of the vote and with 70,000 fewer votes.  But that increase in votes came from most of the same areas that supported him four years ago.

Media claim #2: Santorum lost this race in the last few days when he shifted the campaign focus from the economy to women’s issues, particularly abortion and reproductive rights. This was a theme trumpeted by more than one news outlet in the days leading up to the Michigan primary, and one that CNN’s Gloria Borger raised during the primary coverage Tuesday night.   In fact, however, Santorum’s support among Republican women has increased since January, and in Michigan, exit polls indicate he won 38% of the men’s votes – and 38% of the women’s vote.  Similarly, Santorum won 38% of the vote by “working women” and 38% of the vote of everyone else.  If anything, it was Romney who suffered from a gender gap – he did 4% better among women than men.  It appears that some of the men’s vote gravitated from Romney to Paul.  The lack of a gender gap based on Santorum’s views toward “women’s issues” should not surprise us – although media pundits continue to insist that views toward issues such as abortion and reproductive rights drive the gender gap in voting, that’s not the case.  Instead, women and men differ much more on issues related to war and peace, and how much the government is responsible for caring for the most vulnerable citizens in society.   Keep in mind that 79% of Michigan voters cited the budget deficit and the economy as the most important issue – only 14% mentioned abortion.   When reporters go on and on about how women are particularly sensitive to debates regarding these issues, I often believe they are more likely voicing their own views, about what they think is true – views reflecting their own socioeconomic status, rather than citing any evidence to support the claim.

But didn’t the polls indicate that Santorum’s support shrank in the last few days before the Michigan primary – just as talk about social issues heated up?  It is true that among the 9% who made up their mind on the day of the election, Romney won 38-31%.  But for those who decided “in the last few days”, Santorum took 43% of the vote, compared to 34% for Romney.  At the very least, those making the social issues claim have to explain why social issues suddenly became prominent among those who decided on the day of the election, but not among those who made up their minds in the last few days before the vote took place.  It may be the case that Santorum lost support because of his conservative social views,  but I’ll need more evidence before I accept this claim.

In the competitive news environment that drives political coverage today, when every outlet struggles to define an outcome in the most newsworthy manner possible in order to capture the viewing audience in any single news cycle, there is a tendency to overstate the significance of each event.  But in an extended nomination fight, no single contest is likely to be a game-changer at this point.  Michigan did not save Mitt’s campaign.  Nor did it doom Rick’s.  It’s important to keep that in mind as we head toward SuperTuesday, when the media hyperbole will undoubtedly reach new heights.  There will be 10 contests on March 6, with 437 delegates at stake – more than have been up for grabs in all the contests so far.  And yet, when the dust settles, we are likely to see a reprise of what just happened last Tuesday:  Wolf Blitzer will begin the night trumpeting the significance of it all,  John King will work the magic board until it malfunctions, Anderson Cooper will wander the stage looking for someone to talk to, the pundits will opine (sometimes accurately, sometimes not), the major candidates will all win a chunk of delegates, Mitt will retain his weak frontrunner status, I’ll pour a glass of scotch, and the race will continue.

Addendum:  Here’s more media hyperbole from Charles Krauthammer on Michigan, the “gender gap” and how Santorum blew it.

Addendum (11:00 p.m.)  I’ve been teaching and grading for most of the day, so I’m late to to this story that a divided Michigan rules committee has decided to award both of Michigan’s at large delegates to Romney. If this survives the inevitable Santorum challenge, it will mean that Romney wins 16 delegates to Santorum’s 14, instead of a 15-15 split.  It won’t change the point of my post, however.

Mitt To Be Tied? Previewing the Arizona and Michigan Primaries

Based on the latest polling data in Michigan, today’s primary there is almost certainly not going to have the ending Mitt Romney likely envisioned when he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination last year.   The very latest Michigan poll shows Romney leading Santorum by 37%-36%, which, in effect, is a tossup.  Given the closeness of the race, the winner may be determined by how many Democrats decide to participate in this open primary, and whether they all go for Santorum.  If they do, he may squeak out a victory.

However, because the bulk of Michigan’s 30 delegates are allocated by winner-take-all in each of the state’s 14 congressional districts, it is quite likely that Romney and Santorum will split the delegate haul pretty evenly no matter who wins the popular vote, although there’s a slight possibility Ron Paul could steal a district.  Three months ago I’m confident that Mitt viewed Michigan, his home state, as solid Romney territory.  Today, he’s hoping to hang on for a win, knowing full well that he’s squandered a chance to pad his delegate lead.

As Jon Bernstein reminds us, however, the news is not likely to be all bad for Mitt tonight.  All indications are that he is going to win Arizona, with the latest polls there having him leading Santorum by about 16%. Unlike in Michigan, Arizona’s 29 delegates are awarded on a winner-take-all statewide basis; you don’t get anything for finishing second statewide or winning congressional districts.    (Note that both Michigan and Arizona saw their delegate totals halved by the Republican Party by virtue of holding their primaries before March 1.)   So, based on delegates alone, Mitt is likely to be the big winner tonight no matter what the Michigan outcome.   Unfortunately for Mitt, given the expectations game, this may not be how the media spins the results.  Instead, it is more likely that in their fixation on the horse race, they will emphasize Mitt’s surprisingly (based on earlier media expectations!)  close race in his home state, and suggest this is another indication of his rather lackluster candidacy.    This will set up the media narrative looking ahead to the March 6 Super Tuesday events, where Mitt is not likely to do very well.  Poor Mitt – even when he wins he loses!   But in truth this is not solely media spin – the fact that Mitt is struggling in a state that he won easily in 2008 with 39% of the vote over the eventual Republican nominee John McCain is a valid indication that Romney is a weak candidate.  So, victory in Arizona notwithstanding, tonight is not going to be all sweetness and light for Mitt.

Given the closeness of the Michigan race, this could be a long night.  Polls close there at 8 p.m. eastern time, but I don’t expect the networks to project a winner for some time.  In Arizona, where polls close at 9 Eastern Time, Mitt should be declared the winner in short order.   As always, I’ll be on for more extended analysis and a live blog later tonight.  Keep in mind that these are the first primaries since Florida at the end of January, and the first events that will actually award delegates since the Nevada caucus.  (All of Santorum’s subsequent “victories” came without any fixed delegates as yet.)  And there are some interesting subplots beyond the delegate haul to discuss. For example, how will Mitt do among Hispanics in Arizona?  What do the exit polls indicate about Mitt’s support among lower-income voters, and among the Tea Party crowd?  Has Santorum’s gender gap widened? Can Ron Paul rally to win any delegates at all tonight?  And, most importantly, how do the media spin the results?

As always, you are invited to join in tonight.  I’ll likely be on closer to 8 p.m., unless exit polls are leaked earlier.

Why Republicans Should Embrace Operation Hilarity

With polls indicating that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are in a virtual tie in Michigan less than 24 hours before tomorrow’s primary there, it may be time for Republicans to start hoping that “Operation Hilarity” succeeds.  Operation Hilarity, of course, is the plan hatched by left-leaning blogger and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas to have Democrats vote in Michigan’s Republican primary in order to defeat Romney in his “home state”.  If Democrats can swing the Michigan election to Santorum, Moulitsas  believes, they may derail Romney’s candidacy, extend the Republican nomination fight and weaken whoever the eventual Republican nominee might be for the general election.  Moulitsas isn’t the only one pushing this idea; already Michiganders are receiving 30-second robocalls organized by a Democratic operative urging them to vote for Santorum in order to “embarrass” Romney.

Note that the Democratic-inspired strategy in Michigan mirrors the advice Republican Sarah Palin gave fellow partisans a month ago, when she urged them to vote against Romney in order to extend the nominating process.  She argued that by doing so, it would give time for all the Republican candidates to be fully vetted, but it was clear she was particularly concerned about Romney, the frontrunner whose conservative bona fides remain suspect to many Tea Party activists. More recently, Palin openly speculated about the possibility of a brokered convention, allowing that it might not be a bad outcome and offering to do what is necessary to “help” her fellow Republicans if it came down to that.  Although she didn’t specify the nature of that “help”, one imagines it centers on her volunteering to head the Republican ticket.

The ultra-liberal Moulitsas and Tea Party favorite Palin reading from the same electoral playbook?  As Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson might ask, “What up with that?”  The liberal Senator Ted Kennedy once remarked about cosponsoring legislation with Strom Thurmond, his conservative Senate counterpart from South Carolina, that “Whenever Strom and I introduce a bill together, it is either an idea whose time has come, or one of us has not read the bill”.

In this case, I suggest the Palin-Moulitsas “cosponsored” strategy indicates it is an idea whose time has come.  Here’s why.  Assuming the latest polling is correct, it is almost certain that Romney will not quell the growing doubts regarding his candidacy even if he squeaks by Santorum in Michigan and wins Arizona, which also holds its Republican primary tomorrow.  In my previous post I noted veteran prognosticator Charlie Cook’s latest column in which he admits to increasing skepticism regarding the viability of Romney’s candidacy. Today New Yorker columnist Ryan Lizza suggests that members of the Republican establishment may be starting to walk back their endorsements of Romney.  None of this should surprise longtime readers, of course; I’ve been citing evidence of Romney’s weakness since before the Iowa caucuses. It simply has taken awhile for others to catch on.

The problem for Republicans, however, has always been finding a suitable alternative.  The only non-Romney candidate that ever showed evidence of inspiring the base to turn out and vote was Newt Gingrich in South Carolina.  His victory there, however, led Romney to once again bury poor Newt in an avalanche of negative ads, much as he did in the run-up to the Iowa caucus.  Romney’s strategy had the desired effect; the Newtster fared poorly in Florida and to date has never really recovered.  Santorum, meanwhile, for all the media hype coming off of his caucus victories in Minnesota and Colorado, has so far not demonstrated that he can win in any state where turnout approaches double-figures, although he may snap that skein tomorrow in Michigan.  Nonetheless, among many Republicans there remain huge doubts regarding Santorum’s unyielding brand of social conservatism.

So what’s a good Republican to do?  To this point, it involves a lot of handwringing and hoping that someone – anyone! – will step forward to excite the base and win this nomination.  For all his money and organizational advantages, it is clear that Mitt simply lacks the political acumen to win this race in convincing fashion.  His victories to date testify more to his ability to drown his opponents in a sea of negative ads than to any power to attract broad-based support based on his own attributes.  Yesterday – as only Mitt can – he once again showed that he just doesn’t connect with the NASCAR shot and beer crowd, and he never will.  Ironically, the latest evidence came at a genuine NASCAR event; visiting the Daytona 500 Romney was asked about his love of racing.   He replied, “I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.”  That’s right.  Mitt rubs shoulders with the owners.  Santorum, meanwhile, had his name plastered on an actual race car.   Mitt, you will recall, prefers Cadillacs.

As we near Super Tuesday, however, it becomes increasingly clear that there simply isn’t time for one of the usual non-Mitt suspects – say, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush or Chris Christie – to get on the ballot in enough states to win the nomination outright – not that any of them has shown any willingness to do so.   Increasingly, for Republicans who are less than thrilled with the current crop of candidates, that leaves one option – the brokered convention.  More than one Republican strategist has openly speculated that the possibility of a brokered convention,  once considered completely unrealistic, is now at least plausible if still unlikely.  A few are even whispering, as Palin implicitly suggested, that it might be for the best if it allows a new Republican to step up.

I think Republicans are missing an opportunity here. Rather than wondering whether a brokered convention might occur, it’s time for Republicans to embrace the Moulitsas strategy in order to make certain it does occur.  That means an orchestrated campaign designed to prevent Mitt from securing a majority of delegates and winning the nomination outright.  Without active intervention, Romney is likely to slog his way to an uninspiring victory by dint of his massive advantage in resources.  He will simply outlast, if not outwit or outplay, his fellow Survivor contestants.   To prevent this, Republicans should organize against Mitt by backing his opponents – all his opponents.  The idea is to go into the convention with none of the current candidates having any real claim to the nomination.   If they are all discredited, it makes it easier to propose an alternative – and harder for the alternative to say no.  After all, it’s one thing to say I don’t want to endure three months of chicken wings, cheap hotels and character assassination.  It’s another to say I won’t accept a draft at a three-day convention.  I defy any of these non-Mitt’s to go Shermanesque on a desperate party and refuse a draft nomination.  It’s simply not going to happen.  They will fall all over themselves to do the right thing by the party and run for President – if asked.

Let’s be clear. There are real risks to this strategy.  No one can be sure how a brokered convention will play out.  Certainly it raises the possibility that the party establishment will lose control of events.  But then, that might be for the best, given their misguided efforts to ram Romney down Republican voters’ throats.  It is also true that whoever is chosen will not have been battled-hardened by a nomination run before the rigors of a general election campaign.  But keep in mind that in the pre-reform period, parties often chose candidates via a convention fight.  It’s not like this is completely unchartered waters.  And besides, think of the enthusiasm mingled with relief that will accompany the nomination of a new candidate, one who ideally will reignite the passions of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party while retaining support of party moderates.

An unlikely scenario?  Undoubtedly so if Republicans continue to sit on their hands and hope for the best, while fearing the worst.  All the more reason to take matters into their own hands, beginning tomorrow in Michigan and continuing through the end of the nominating process.

Operation Hilarity, your time has come!

Addendum (10:45 p.m.): Public Policy Polling is hyping their latest Michigan poll on tweeter by suggesting Santorum may pull this out by virtue of support from Democrats!  The Master Plan Is Unveiled!