When rival John McCain said — probably correctly — that some of the state’s lost automotive jobs wouldn’t come back, Romney answered, “Baloney.” He also promised the auto industry $20 billion in federal investment, along with relief from mileage standards and burdensome employee health-care costs. Looked at from the voter’s perspective, one candidate, McCain, offered Michiganders little understanding — the Michigan equivalent of McCain’s opposition to ethanol subsidies in Iowa — while the other, Romney, promised to throw them a life preserver. The guy with the life preserver won.
The other big factor at play was that turnout was low with Democrats and independents—the people who gave McCain his victory in 2000. McCain needed a certain percentage of the independent vote to turn out last night, and they simply did not. Conservatives chose Romney by a large margin, and McCain didn’t have enough independents and crossover Democrats to make up for his losses there. (There’s also no evidence that that radical left’s plan to “throw” the elections by voting for Romney had any impact on the race—McCain still won crossover voters by significant margins.)
The problem is that while Romney’s campaign now has some steam, what does that mean for him down the road? Is Romney likely to pick up more support in South Carolina, where it looks like the race is between Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson? Will Romney do better on Super Tuesday? It’s hard to say, and the polls are useless as a predictor.
The two definite losers last night were pollsters and John McCain.
Once again, we also see how inaccurate political polling has been this year. The race was supposed to be close, and instead Romney got a convincing 9-point win rather than a squeaker. None of the polls in any of the states have been particularly accurate, it it doesn’t look like they’ll be getting any better in the future. Polling just doesn’t work—people distrust pollsters (especially Republicans), they increasingly use cellular phones rather than landlines, and polls tend to reflect conventional wisdom rather than real political trends. Even political futures markets have been doing poorly. How pollsters can change methodologies and tactics is a question for the future—what matters now is that polls don’t mean much of anything in predicting outcomes in this race.
John McCain also blew an opportunity to remain the frontrunner. His “straight talk” came off as pessimism, which is not politically popular. Even if McCain is right on the substance—big manufacturing is no longer the engine of employment than it was, thanks to competition and technological change, putting it so negatively was guaranteed to hurt him in Michigan. Yes, being a “straight talker” has it’s benefits: but only if you’re willing to give people some hope for the future. Had McCain said something about “taking Michigan into the 21st Century” or the like, he might have done better. McCain’s time as frontrunner may now be a thing of the past.
Looking ahead, the race is still a 5-way tie. It’s quite possible we could have 5 major contests with 5 different winners if Thompson wins South Carolina and Giuliani wins Florida. If so, it’s impossible to predict what the race will look like. Giuliani’s late-state strategy may have been a brilliant political tactic, or it may have been campaign suicide. We probably won’t know until Super Tuesday. This race is incredibly volatile on both sides—a real throwback to the days when party conventions matter. Not only could there be a brokered convention this year, it’s not inconceivable for both conventions to be brokered.
This race isn’t over on either side, and unless there’s a major upset in the dynamics of both, it may not be over after Super Tuesday either.