Last week when my home state of Michigan burst onto the national political scene for the first time since the last time a primary passed through, Mitt Romney looked like he was dead in the water. With primary booths opening this morning across the state, however, Romney may have a fighting chance of beating Rick Santorum, who was the prohibitive favorite to win the state mere days ago.
The uncertainty in Michigan is hardly a surprise after the unpredictable start to the primary season. There have been almost as many changes in frontrunner as there have been primary debates (a lot, for those who haven’t been paying attention) and the voting public seems as fickle as they’ve ever been. But Romney’s faltering grasp on the Great Lakes State is particularly alarming considering that spent his teenage years living in the governor’s mansion.
George Romney (father of the aspiring Robot in Chief) was governor of Michigan during the 1960s, and before that he served as an auto industry executive. Mitt Romney has been playing up his Midwestern roots throughout the Michigan campaign. Theoretically, a Republican who likes cars is just the ticket in Michigan, a socially conservative state that has rested in the blue column largely due to union influence. But Romney lost much of that appeal in 2008 when he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”.
Romney wasn’t content to allow his nonchalance toward the key industry in his home state go unnoticed, however. He published a second op-ed two weeks ago in the Detroit News restating his position and further accusing President Obama and the United Auto Workers of engaging in “crony capitalism”. Shortly thereafter, a New York Times blog gave Rick Santorum a 72 percent chance of winning the state.
Romney made his situation worse by making a string of bizarre appearances, including one in which he proclaimed his love for Michigan by saying that “the trees are the right height here!” Late last week Romney held an event at Ford Field, a football stadium which seats 65,000. The event was attended by only a few hundred people, lending the campaign a truly unimpressive visual. At the same event, he attempted to relate to Michiganders, who were some of the hardest hit by the recession, by intimating that his wife has a different Cadillac at each of the couple’s multiple homes.
It seemed for a brief moment as if Rick Santorum could finally have his moment in the sun in Michigan, but after a weak debate performance he started slipping in the polls. Romney’s team has been careful to manage expectations, not willing to declare a win before it has been earned, but his situation is certainly less precarious than it was a week ago.
If Mitt Romney wins Michigan and its thirty delegates, it will be in spite of his performance in the state and not because of it. Romney consistently struggled to say anything positive about Michigan, aside from his love for American cars. Unfortunately for the former Massachusetts governor, liking cars is not enough to win the hearts and minds of the Midwestern public. One has to care about the people who make them, too.