Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mitt's Michigan Momentum

Michigan scored one for the home team to finally bag a gold for Mitt Romney, at the expense of John McCain and the lurking Mike Huckabee. Romney, who needed the critical victory to set his campaign on its intended track, restored a glimmer of hope to his candidacy after disappointing losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, despite outspending all his rivals almost 3 to 1. The result revived Romney's Presidential bid, whose associates suggested he quit the race unless he wins Michigan. Romney took a commanding 39% of the voters as against McCain's 30% and Mike Huckabee's 16%.

John McCain anchored his Michigan campaign on a huge turnout of independents and democratic voters since these entities were allowed to participate if registered. He even solicited the support of former Democrat Senator turned independent Joe Lieberman to attract a groundswell of independents to the polls. However, the low turnout of both segments spelled the defeat of McCain as more Republicans voted, who eventually decided the caucus along party affiliations. McCain remains unpopular with the party establishment and is largely viewed with suspicion for his stand on immigration and his propensity to go against Republicans.

Mike Huckabee, the Iowa primary winner, emphasized his focus on the South Carolina primary, saying that the first in the South contest will give their support for the first in the South candidate.

Romney's triumph was a result of his association with Michigan, being born there, which he played up consistently. His father too had been a Governor of the state and he referred to the economic status of MIchigan when his father was at the helm; promising to bring back the growth to the state. His business background also provided credibility to his statements about bringing Detroit's jobs and employment to higher levels.

Unemployment in Michigan is highest in the US at 7.4%, and Detroit is suffering from a serious slump in the auto industry which used to be its major growth engine. Job losses, competitive situation, production cuts, have continued to plague the industry. Mitt Romney promised to inject a new vigor to the auto industry which elicited cheers throughout his Detroit speeches. In contrast, John McCain spoke of the need to diversify and therefore retrain workers to prepare them to take advantage of forthcoming developments that America will face in the efforts to preserve the environment. Workers were not inclined to accept this concept, and coupled with the suspicions surrounding McCain's liberal posturings, opted for Romney, the homeboy, instead.

Six in 10 voters said jobs and the economy was the most important issue to voters in the Michigan primary. Here, Romney led by 4 percentage points. In point of comparison, what Romney was offering is to continue Detroit's product orientation to restore jobs, which is short term considering trends in the industry worldwide which is skewed in favor of less emissions, more innovations (solar powered, driver less cars, etc.), and less consumption. McCain's concept was to transcend current product outputs and refocus on those that would support environmental demands. Apparently, his idea was mis-understood, and consequently rejected.

Romney's victory is by no means an assurance that he would have the nomination in the bag. The Michigan primary merely pulled his campaign back from the brink of a costly failure. The GOP caucus is now wide open with no clear front runner. South Carolina is an imperative win for all three candidates and would give the winner a small breathing space. Mike Huckabee is confident of the evangelical support, but McCain's additional votes are expected to come from conservatives in the state.

With the support of his friend Fred Thompson who seems content to become a Vice-Presidential nominee and an attack dog of McCain against Huckabee; it is worth watching how much Thompson's gunslinging abilities can reduce support from Huckabee in favor of McCain. In this primary, McCain needs more than sleeping on the right side of the bed, a movie during the voting, a nickel picked up from the street, and all such superstitious omens he is known for; to win convincingly in South Carolina.

As for Mitt Romney, he should not spend more than his rivals in South Carolina, and should perhaps pray more for survival up to the finish line.


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