The GOP Primary race is heating up, and while Mitt Romney is still way out in front of the pack in terms of the delegate count, one candidate in particular is making another surge.
Seriously, Santorum is still in this and he’s looking better and better with each passing day. After being left for dead after his bubble burst – as every candidate’s bubble has – Santorum has not given up. As of the latest delegate count he has 72 delegates, although that’s not a hard total. Santorum had a spectacular week winning Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado, unfortunately all three of those elections were non-binding, Colorado and Minnesota will award delegates at the state convention, and Missouri simply held a testing the waters primary, and will having a caucus in March.
Which means while Santorum can feel good about technically winning those states, he hasn’t really won them. It’s a delegate race, and Missouri could easily switch, and delegate distribution at the state convention in Minnesota and Colorado could go Romney’s way if he is the only man in the race in a few months.
That all means the upcoming race in Michigan is even more important. There is a considerable number of delegates at stake, 30 total, and the idea of any other candidate stealing what is essentially Romney’s home turf away from him, would be a huge game changer.
But can Santorum actually win? Could he really take the Great Lakes State?
A recent poll from PPP says yes, showing the former Pennsylvania Senator up 15%, meanwhile two previous polls taken in early February show Romney up 15%. So I guess the question is, did one week, mainly CPAC and his three wins, really sway that many Michiganders?
Let’s take a look at the 2008 results and analyze some of Romney’s weak spots last time around.
In 2008 there were clear geographic distinctions between McCain and Romney. Romney took most of the eastern portion of the state. These counties are the most densely populated and many of them have some of the highest income earners in the state. Particularly Oakland county, one of the richest counties not only in the state but the country, leaned Romney by 20%. Meanwhile some of the most rural lower income counties, particularly in the southwest portion of the state along the border of Indiana (St. Joseph, Branch, and Hillsdale) went McCain. Overall, of those earning less than $50,000 a year, McCain only lost by 1%. However those earning more than $50,000 a year went Romney by a nine percent margin. Of those that thought the US economy was poor, 34% voted for McCain, while 27% voted for Romney.
This is an interesting statistic. Seems that in 2008 those that you could deem “struggling” economically, were more prone to believe McCain was the answer. Michigan in 2008 was essentially the entire country of the last several years, Michigan has been in a recession for some time and when the 2008 primary was held they were certainly hurting, despite the fact that the economic meltdown wouldn’t come until the general election.
For the most part, McCain won the western portion of the state, save for Kent and Ottawa counties, two of the most conservative counties in the state. Which is interesting. In 2008 Romney was seen as the “conservative alternative” to McCain, or at least more conservative than McCain, while this year people are searching for a “conservative alternative” to Romney. Are Ottawa and Kent counties, which collectively made up 12% of GOP primary voters, looking for the conservative option this year? If so, they might view Santorum as that choice. It also helps that Santorum has strong religious ties, which is another important attribute to these two counties. If Santorum is going to win Michigan, he’ll have to take Ottawa and Kent counties, and those voters will have to look to him as the conservative alternative to Romney.
Like I mentioned above, those two counties are also strongly rooted in religion, which is why in 2008 Mike Huckabee did best in those two counties. Santorum is religious. That could certainly boost him on the west side of the state.
It’s also important to remember that while Romney calls Michigan home for election purposes, it’s not really home. Michiganders don’t seem to have any special connection to Romney and that seems to be the way Romney feels as well. I don’t think there’s much voting going on for Romney simply because he was born in the state and his father was governor.
So can Santorum win Michigan? He certainly can, so long as he wins Ottawa County and Kent County. If he can take those two, that’s a sign the state is looking for a conservative alternative instead of a familiar face.