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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Romney and The Michigan Factor

Nestled in a Kathleen Parker column at RealClearPolitics today on Republican vice presidential speculation (the headline was about Bobby Jindal) was this interesting tidbit:

New polling in Michigan by Ayres, McHenry & Associates shows that Romney gives McCain a significant jump — “off the charts,” as someone familiar with the still-unreleased poll described it — and makes him competitive in a state that hasn’t voted Republican since 1988.

This caught my attention because I had just read a short article at The New Republic by FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver suggesting that his analysis showed Michigan and Ohio as the “tipping-point states”–those most likely to decide a very close general election.
Assessments of Romney as a McCain running-mate typically focus on his popularity among conservative elites, his looks and money, and his Mormonism. But no one should forget his family’s very high profile in MI, a state whose primary Romney won in one of the few bright spots for his campaign.
Mitt, of course, is a Michigan native, as is his wife, Ann. His father, George Romney, is remembered nationally (if at all) for his dithering indecision about running for president in 1964 (he ultimately didn’t), and for the “I was brainwashed about Vietnam” gaffe that destroyed his 1968 candidacy before the primaries even began. But he was a popular three-term governor of MI, and before that, president of American Motors. His wife, Lenore, ran for the Senate in 1970.
This sort of homeboy factor may not matter to that many voters, particularly those too young to remember Mitt’s father. Michigan in many ways should be a tough state for McCain: it has large African-American, union, Arab-American and student populations, along with profound economic problems, including a very hard hit from the housing crisis. McCain’s free-trade enthusiasm is anathema to many voters there. Obama has consistently held a modest lead in general-election polling in MI (the latest RealClearPolitics polling average has him up 47-41).
I haven’t seen the poll Parker mentions, but if the Mittster indeed would give McCain a big push in Michigan, it will be very tempting for him to move in that direction, since Romney’s one of the relatively short list of viable candidates that won’t create heartburn among the institutional Right (with the exception of a few Christian Right leaders who don’t like Mormons).
The single biggest problem with a McCain-Romney ticket isn’t Mitt’s religion or the mockery he often attracts from the news media. In a general election campaign in which McCain will apparently focus on accusing Barack Obama of being a callow, slippery flip-flopper, can he really afford a running-mate whom he constantly attacked as a flip-flopper during the nomination contest? I suspect both men would be reminded a lot of that exchange in New Hampshire back in January when Romney did a long, redundant litany about “change,” and McCain smirkingly responded: “I do agree you are the candidate of change.”

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