[Posted by Karl]
Some of the coverage of the GOP campaign would suggest that Mitt Romney must win the Michigan primary:
For Romney, the contest is a chance to show that he can connect with working-class voters, who have been lukewarm toward him. He has a built-in advantage in a state where he grew up and his father was a popular auto executive and governor. But for those same reasons, a defeat here could be devastating.
“If Romney loses Michigan, the perception is that it’s just a huge loss for him, one that could really cost him the nomination,” said Steve Mitchell, a Republican pollster based in East Lansing.
National Journal’s Beth Reinhard suggested possibly near-apocalyptic ramifications:
A Santorum victory would strip Romney of his front-runner’s cloak and throw the race into chaos. Romney would appear fatally flawed, while Santorum would continue to look like a long shot for the nomination – likely triggering a party-wide panic attack and potentially forcing a new candidate off the sidelines to try to rescue the GOP from a second Obama term.
Although Romney is perceived as scrambling, we really don’t know the state of play in Michigan yet. A PPP poll showing a 15% lead for Santorum is at odds with the latest Rasmussen poll showing Santorum with a 3% lead.
If Rasmussen is closer to the mark, Romney may have an organizational edge — over 100,000 early ballots have already been cast (about 870,000 voted in the 2008 primary). The delegate allocation rules also become much more important in a close race. Two delegates are awarded to the winner of each of the 14 congressional districts, plus two awarded by overall statewide vote totals. The Hotline’s Tim Alberta suggested on Twitter that Romney could sweep the Detroit metro area (where Alberta lived for a long time) and pick up more than 20 of the 30 delegates at stake, which would kill the “Romney in disarray” narrative quickly.
However, if PPP is closer to the mark, it would suggest that Romney probably never had an edge in Michigan:
Michigan is perceived as a state where Romney really has a home field advantage, but only 26% of primary voters actually consider him to be a Michigander while 62% do not. Only 39% have a favorable opinion of George Romney with a 46% plurality having no opinion about him. Romney really doesn’t have some great reservoir of goodwill in Michigan to fall back on. Only 49% of voters have a favorable opinion of him to 39% with a negative one. That’s down a net 28 points from our last poll of Michigan in July when he was at +38 (61/23).
Romney beat McCain in Michigan in 2008, but perhaps the real explanation for that is that Romney was seen as NotMcCain. Thus, if Romney is beaten by NotRomney this year, perhaps we should not be surprised, let alone shocked.
The rules and the calendar favor Romney. If Santorum wins Michigan, it will help him in Ohio and possibly marginalize Newt Gingrich in the South on Super Tuesday. If Santorum loses, people would question whether he can win more than low-turnout caucuses and beauty contests. If there has been any truism in this cycle, it is that the NotRomney requires momentum. Accordingly, I would argue a win in Michigan is likely more important for Santorum. Drumming up drama about Romney is probably good for web traffic, but I doubt it would produce the establishment panic some suggest.