Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Michigan: Santorum's Florida?

It's still nearly two weeks until the next major contests in the Republican presidential primary: Michigan and Arizona will vote on February 28th. Less attention has been paid to Arizona, which is considered an easier state for Mitt Romney to win; the other candidates aren't devoting many resources to that state. Instead, the focus has been on Michigan, a state which Rick Santorum intends to win. Romney, too, desperately wants to win Michigan. The contest will be important because it will be the first time that Romney and Santorum have directly vied for a state since Santorum's wins on February 7th.

Michigan's importance is even greater if one considers it to be a neutral battleground between the two candidates, much the same way that Florida was a neutral battleground for Romney and Newt Gingrich back in January. There's a difference, however. Florida did not lean toward one candidate or another. Michigan, on the other hand, does lean toward Romney--but it also leans toward Santorum. Romney won Michigan in 2008, it's a left-leaning state, and Romney has ties there (Romney was born in Michigan, and his father was a popular governor there in years past).

Meanwhile, it's a Midwestern state, so it may naturally favor Santorum, who has shown strength in the region. Also, the pro-Romney bent of the state may be diminished by Romney's outspoken opposition to the "auto bailout" of General Motors and Chrysler. Santorum also opposed the bailout, but that fact is less known.

Arguably, the state's biases cancel each other out, leaving both Romney and Santorum a real chance to win. Here are the latest polls:

Michigan Primary
02/14 Mitchell -- Santorum 34, Romney 25, Paul 11, Gingrich 5
02/13 Rasmussen -- Santorum 35, Romney 32, Paul 13, Gingrich 11
02/12 ARG -- Santorum 33, Romney 27, Gingrich 21, Paul 12
02/12 PPP (D) -- Santorum 39, Romney 24, Paul 12, Gingrich 11

One thing is clear: Santorum is currently in the lead. As expected, his surge--based in large part on his status as the only candidate who hasn't been vetted yet--has boosted his numbers beyond Romney for the time being. The extent of Santorum's lead varies wildly: PPP has him up by 15, while Rasmussen gives him a lead of 3 points. Gingrich's numbers are also all over the board, ranging from 5 to 21 points.

The difference may be due to the fact that it's difficult for pollsters to set up the infrastructure to poll just one state. They had less time to do it, since the importance of Michigan wasn't apparent from the beginning of the presidential race--unlike New Hampshire or Florida, which were clearly going to make news.

The stakes are high. Romney and Santorum are both under extreme pressure to win Michigan. There is one debate scheduled prior to the contest, on February 22nd. As with Gingrich's surge following South Carolina, the burden is on Romney to use his resources to vet his opponent and change the trajectory of the race. If Romney fails to derail Santorum, Santorum's odds of winning the nomination will increase considerably.