the national interest

Romney’s Strange Michigan Gamble

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at The Greater Farmington Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon February 16, 2012 in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Yes, it’s your home state, but there are an awful lot of them. Photo: J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

Setting expectations low is a familiar campaign ritual, but Mitt Romney’s campaign is dispensing with it altogether in Michigan. Indeed, they’ve engaged in an almost hyperbolic display of reverse expectations-setting. Romney has essentially guaranteed his own victory in the state. L. Brooks Patterson, a prominent state politico and high-profile Romney backer, says that Romney will not just win but win huge. (“The polls are making it [seem] a lot closer, but I think when you get right down to it, Romney takes Michigan, and I think he takes it rather strongly.”)

This seems like a really strange decision. Yes, Romney grew up in Michigan. But his father hasn’t been on the ballot in more than four decades and voters there have little memory of him. It’s also a Midwestern state that suits his main opponent, Rick Santorum, fairly well. And Santorum has so far led every single poll.

What makes the all-in decision even more strange is that there’s another primary that same day where Romney really does command a wide advantage – Arizona, with a sizable Mormon population, and where Santorum has barely contested. Romney ought to be exploiting the fact that Arizona, the state where he’s strongly favored to win, allocates its delegates on a winner-take-all basis while Michigan, the state where he currently trails, allocates its delegates proportionally.

With the proper spin, Romney could persuasively portray a split decision, where he wins Arizona and loses Michigan, as a big win. (It would be, delegate-wise.) Instead, he’s made the Arizona race almost completely invisible, and positioned his campaign to suffer a narrative of collapse if Santorum can maintain his lead in Michigan.

Now, Romney stands a strong chance of catching Santorum by employing his familiar method of overwhelming financial superiority. But, hey, maybe Santorum can hang on. Why has Romney decided to make the state do-or-die?

Romney’s Strange Michigan Gamble