Why does Mitt Romney so often get tangled up by his own words like he’s trapped in jungle underbrush?
It happened again Wednesday during an interview with the Ohio News Network. Asked whether he supports the Blunt amendment – legislation that would exempt religiously-affiliated employers from providing employees with contraception – Mr. Romney said he didn’t. Then he pivoted to attack Rick Santorum, saying he didn’t believe campaigns needed to interfere in the relationships of husbands and wives.
The problem is that Romney does support the Blunt amendment. That’s a GOP given, since it would overturn an Obama administration health-care mandate. Within hours, Romney was on the Howie Carr radio show doing a mea culpa.
“I didn’t understand the question. Of course I support the Blunt amendment ... I think every Republican is supporting it,” said Romney.
We’ll judge this as a gaffe, not a flip-flop. Romney wasn’t against the bill before he was for it – he was against it all the time, but that wasn’t what was coming out of his mouth.
Why does he misspeak so often, or say stuff that makes him seem like J. Thurston Romney III? If he’s not putting his wife in several Cadillacs that were undoubtedly purchased from his NASCAR team-owning friends, he’s betting Rick Perry $10,000 that corporations are people, my friend. Or something like that.
Well, we’ve got a couple of theories, above and beyond the obvious one that campaigning for president for years on end is tiring.
His mouth is faster than his brain.
Watch the Ohio News Network interview, and it seems like Romney has already moved past the actual question and is setting up to go after Mr. Santorum. His mouth is moving, but his brain is still formulating anti-Rick stuff. Anybody who’s appeared on TV can understand this phenomenon. You’re not there to have a discussion. You’re there to move from one-liner to talking point, and back.
There’s a technical neurology term for this, by the way. It’s called “Mouth-moving-faster-than-brainitis.”
Some of Romney’s other verbalosities have come when he’s trying to fill empty space. A voter or interviewer will ask an open-ended question, and just sit there, and Romney feels compelled to say something. It’s an old reporter’s trick: don’t ask questions, just stare at the person you’re grilling. You’d be amazed at how many people just start rattling away.
He suffers under the Imperious Curse.
OK, this is our editor’s theory: Somebody else is controlling Romney and gleefully forcing him to say unfortunate things. In the Harry Potter world, there’s something called an “Imperious Curse,” in which you control another person’s thoughts. It’s like that. Hmm, who would do that? Who reads a lot, is himself verbally dexterous, and beams like a happy kid whenever Romney blurts out something bad? Gingrich!!
Not every pundit thinks Romney’s gaffes are unusually numerous, or that big a problem.
“I don’t want to say that stuff is irrelevant, especially in primary elections where there’s so little to differentiate the candidates in the first place, but the truth is that there’s a lot more to being a good politician than sounding like one,” wrote political scientist and blogger Jonathan Bernstein yesterday in the Washington Post.
Romney’s political skills are underrated, according to Mr. Bernstein. The former Massachusetts governor is good at raising money and organizing allies and political networks. He’s also generally molded his policy positions to what the primary electorate wants.
If Romney wins the nomination and loses the general election, his gaffes will be magnified in retrospect. If he becomes president they’ll be minimized.
“He’s not a great politician. But he’s a good one,” added Bernstein on his own A Plain Blog About Politics.
Suddenly, Rick Santorum is facing what may be the biggest day of his political life: Super Ohio Tuesday.
Mr. Santorum’s momentum as the latest not-Mitt GOP hopeful has been slowed by his squeaker loss to Mitt Romney in Michigan’s statewide vote, and his big loss in Arizona. Ohio’s March 6 GOP primary now looms as a substantial test of whether that momentum can be restored.
Why Ohio? It’s the backyard to Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania. It’s a Rust Belt, union-heavy place where Santorum’s economic focus on reviving manufacturing should appeal to voters. It’s a place where Santorum currently leads, with the RealClearPolitics rolling poll average putting him in front there by 8.3 percentage points.
It’s also the only Super Tuesday primary race where the winner really remains in doubt, points out University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato on his “Crystal Ball” blog. That’s why March 6 might fairly be called, not just Super Tuesday, but Super Ohio Tuesday.
Mr. Romney “must take the battle to Santorum in the most important Super Tuesday state, Ohio,” writes Mr. Sabato Wednesday.
Santorum shouldn’t take too much comfort from his current lead in Ohio polls, and he probably isn’t. After all, a similar lead in Michigan slipped away prior to Tuesday’s vote. Primary elections can be more volatile than general elections, as voters know less about the candidates and the differences between them seem less pronounced. The biggest cue voters have in the booth – party identification – does not come into play in a primary where all candidates are GOP.
The potential volatility of the Ohio vote can be easily seen in the most recent statewide survey, Ohio Poll, from the University of Cincinnati. This poll puts Santorum up by 11 points. But 47 percent of respondents also said that they might switch their vote between now and March 6. It’s possible that Santorum’s loss in the nearby Wolverine State could give them second thoughts, for instance.
“While Santorum leads the field of Republican candidates in Ohio, the dynamics of the race could change in the campaign’s final week,” write Eric Rademacher and Kimberly Downing of the University of Cincinnati Institute for Policy Research.
One thing that may help Santorum is that Ohio has a higher percentage of evangelical voters than does Michigan. Self-identified evangelicals made up 44 percent of the Ohio GOP electorate in 2008 as opposed to 39 percent in Michigan, points out Larry Sabato.
And right now Santorum has a big lead among Ohio evangelicals – 45 percent, to 20 percent for Romney, according to the Ohio Poll. Santorum also leads Romney among women, 42 to 23 percent, says the Ohio survey. That’s the reverse of the case in Michigan, where women went for Romney, 43 to 38 percent.
As he campaigns this week, Santorum may try to focus more on his manufacturing-specific economic policies than social issues, which could have pulled down his Michigan vote by a crucial few percentage points.
Meanwhile, “Romney will do what he always does – outspend Santorum, go hard negative on TV and ask the GOP leadership to come to his rescue,” writes Sabato.
Not really. The exit poll showed that 9 percent of voters self-identified as Democrats, a perfectly legitimate exercise of suffrage in an open GOP primary. That’s just two percentage points more than in 2008. And it’s far less than in 2000, when Democrats made up 17 percent of the Michigan Republican primary electorate – and helped Sen. John McCain to victory there.
This time, some odd bedfellows encouraged voting by Democrats, who had no competitive presidential primary of their own. The liberal Daily Kos blog unleashed “Operation Hilarity,” urging Democrats to vote for Rick Santorum in hopes it would hand Mitt Romney a humiliating loss in his native state. Then the Santorum campaign chimed in with robocalls to Democrats – a bid, the campaign said, to reach out to conservative “Reagan Democrats.”
Mr. Santorum did indeed win Democrats handily: 52 percent, versus 18 percent for Romney.
We suspect that the calls for Democratic mischief, or at least crossover voting, fell on largely deaf ears. After all, most people have better things to do than play games with the other party’s primary.
RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about Mitt Romney? A quiz.
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How about this for a poll shocker: While everybody in US politics has been preoccupied with the Michigan primary, Ron Paul has sneaked up on President Obama and for the first time leads the incumbent in a head-to-head survey.
That’s right, leads – as in, ahead of, out front, winning, and so forth. According to a Rasmussen Reports poll released Tuesday, at the moment Representative Paul bests Mr. Obama in a head-to-head matchup by 43 to 41 percent.
Wow. Paul is outperforming all the other GOP candidates, by this measure. His campaign is spinning this as evidence he’s the most electable of all.
“In order to win back the White House, Republicans must nominate a consistent candidate that offers something besides the status quo. Ron Paul is that candidate,” said national campaign chairman Jesse Benton in a statement on the Rasmussen results.
Well, we hate to be the bearer of cold water, but we’ve got a couple of comments to make on this.
First, one poll does not a white-haired Texas libertarian president make. As we said, this is the only head-to-head matchup to this point that shows Paul beating Obama. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of such polls still has Paul behind by a little over seven points.
Plus it’s, you know, hypothetical. Paul is not actually running against Obama at the moment. And the polls that have to do with him getting to that point aren’t so positive at the moment.
In the RealClearPolitics poll average of the four GOP contenders, Paul remains in fourth, as the choice of 12 percent of Republican voters. He’s not outperforming that figure in any big March 6 Super Tuesday states, either. In Ohio, he’s at 10.7 percent. In Georgia, he’s at 8.8 percent. He’s doing a bit better in Tennessee, at 15 percent in a recent Vanderbilt University poll, but that’s still good for only third place.
Of course, there is always the chance that Paul can take a few delegates in Tuesday’s Michigan primary. State rules allocate two delegates to the winner of each congressional district, and it’s possible that Paul could win in districts that include the University of Michigan and Michigan State. (He’s big with young people, in case you didn’t know.)
And the Washington caucuses are March 3. They’ll be another test of Paul’s strategy of focusing his energy, money, and organization on caucus states.
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Is Rick Santorum cheating in the Michigan primary? Mitt Romney is implying that’s the case. Mr. Romney is complaining that the Santorum campaign is trying to recruit Democrats in the Wolverine State to vote for the former Pennsylvania senator.
What’s his evidence? Well, it’s true that Mr. Santorum and his associated super PAC appear to be paying for robocalls to Democratic voters. These calls urge recipients to cross the proverbial aisle and vote for Santorum in order to defeat Romney, who opposed the auto bailout.
“It’s a new low in this campaign,” said Romney.
Is it? Well, Michigan’s primary is open, meaning it’s perfectly legal for Democrats to vote on the GOP ballot. Plus, the statewide race is so close that Democratic votes could make a difference.
According to a new survey from Public Policy Polling, Santorum leads among Democrats who plan to vote in the GOP race by 47 to 10 percent. Such voters also make up a substantial eight percent slice of the likely GOP primary electorate, according to PPP.
“The big question now is whether those folks will actually bother to show up and vote,” concludes PPP.
So in that sense, Romney might just be whining. Politics ain’t beanbag, as pundits love to say, even though they have no idea what “beanbag” is. Hard-nosed tactics can be necessary to win.
That said there are some aspects of the calls which, while not illegal, do seem to be deceptive. For one, they kind of glide past the issue of who’s paying for them. At the end of the call paid for by Santorum’s campaign, the man reading says, in the required disclosure line, “This call is supported by hard-working Democratic men and women and paid for by Rick Santorum for president.”
At least, that’ s what it says on the copy of the call captured by a Michigan voter and posted online at Talking Points Memo.
At the end of the call funded by a pro-Santorum super PAC, the reader – a woman this time – says simply, “Paid for by Freedom’s Defense Fund.” Most Michigan voters aren’t going to know who that organization is linked to.
Plus, the ads mislead due to what they leave out. Both are centered on the fact that Romney opposed the auto bailout – a big negative in Michigan. The call from the Santorum campaign adds that Romney did support the financial bailout, while appearing willing to bury GM and Chrysler.
“That was a slap in the face to every Michigan voter,” says the robocall.
What the call does not say is that Santorum opposed the auto bailout, too. He has defended this position in Michigan by noting that unlike Romney he also opposed the financial bailout, so he’s the consistent conservative, while Romney just didn’t like Detroit. But if Santorum included that context on the call, we’re pretty sure most of the Democrats on the other end would just hang up.
Will the calls work? It’s possible. But Santorum may have given Romney a ready-made excuse if he loses in Michigan, while muddying his own message, according to conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin.
“In his anxiousness to try and pull in a few Democratic voters, Santorum has undercut his own self-description as the most Republican of the Republican candidates and conveyed a certain desperation,” Rubin wrote on her Right Turn blog Tuesday.
There will be an overall winner of the Michigan GOP primary – either Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney will take a majority of votes statewide and give a victory speech after that margin is clear. The media will allocate momentum based on this result, saying that Mr. Romney, or Mr. Santorum, has the wind at his back heading into next week’s crucial Super Tuesday votes.
But here’s Michigan’s secret: That result will almost certainly be overhyped. When it comes to delegates, the state is not winner-take-all. As a result of complicated allocation rules, it is possible for the popular-vote victor in the state’s Republican primary to emerge with fewer delegates than the loser.
Furthermore, it looks now as if both Santorum and Romney will win at least some of the state’s delegates to this summer's national convention in Tampa, Fla. That means that, in a strategic sense, the “winner” of the Michigan race won’t win much of an edge at all.
“The bottom line is that barring an overwhelming victory for one candidate in Michigan, the delegate margin is very likely to be close coming out of the Great Lakes state on February 28,” writes Davidson College political scientist and voting process expert Jose Putnam on his Frontloading HQ blog.
Why is that? There are two underlying reasons. The first is that the Republican National Committee is penalizing Michigan for holding its primary earlier than the RNC wanted. The state will select 59 delegates to the Tampa convention, which will officially nominate the party’s presidential candidate. But of those 59, only 30 will get to actually vote.
The second reason is that the 30 voting Michigan delegates will be chosen proportionately, for the most part. The winner of each of the state’s 14 congressional districts will receive two delegates. (If Romney or Santorum won all 14, they’d get 28 votes, for example.) Only two delegates will be awarded to the state’s overall popular-vote winner.
And Michigan’s political geography is far from uniform. Santorum should be strong in the Upper Peninsula and thinly populated north of the Michigan mitten, and in the state’s southwest, an area that remains socially conservative due to the Dutch Reformed Church heritage of many of its inhabitants. (There’s a reason that one of the larger towns along the Lake Michigan coast is named Holland.)
Romney should be strong in Detroit itself and in the Detroit suburbs, including relatively prosperous Oakland County and Macomb County. He could do well in the college towns of central southern Michigan, Ann Arbor and East Lansing. Ron Paul could be a factor with university students, however, so that picture is less clear.
On Monday, New York Times polling analyst Nate Silver broke down Michigan’s political geography, concluding that whoever wins the popular vote there will probably win the most congressional districts, too. But that result is far from certain.
“It is possible that a candidate who takes a narrow statewide loss could carry 8 out of 14 districts, or 9 out of 14 if everything breaks exactly right,” writes Mr. Silver.
Mitt Romney was at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday to attend the Daytona 500. Rain postponed the race, so he didn’t get to see NASCAR racers charging around the famous Daytona oval, turning only to the left. (No Massachusetts Moderate jokes, please.)
Not necessarily. We think the Florida appearance is indicative of Romney camp confidence and could help him in both the Great Lakes State and the general election, if he makes it that far.
OK, his Daytona walk-around itself was yet another example of Mr. Romney’s inimitable stiff bonhomie. When he mixes with regular voters, he reminds us of nothing so much as Prince Charles holding a hot dog: He knows he’s supposed to enjoy it, but he doesn’t really know where to start.
For instance, at one point Romney noted that he does not “closely” follow, as an ardent fan, events of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. But he added, “I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.”
Is that the best choice of words for a guy who’s been taking criticism for noting that his wife drives “several Cadillacs”? Maybe not. (Though as an aside, we’ll note that Michiganders are eager to have as many people drive as many Cadillacs as possible.)
However, the Romney campaign got what it generally wanted: photos and coverage of him walking around a racetrack in a windbreaker, mixing and mingling with regular folks. We think the appearance means they’re increasingly confident about Romney’s prospects in Tuesday’s Michigan primary. Polls show he’s closed the gap on Rick Santorum in the Mitten State, and momentum may be on his side. A new Public Policy Polling survey puts him ahead of Mr. Santorum 39 to 37 percent, for example.
“Compared to a week ago Romney’s gained 6 points, while Santorum’s just stayed in place,” concludes PPP.
It’s a truism of politics that you need to watch what candidates do as opposed to what they say to see how they feel about their prospects. To risk a flight to Florida for a photo op right now probably means Romney Inc. is feeling good. Santorum did not go, despite the fact that he’s sponsoring a car in the race.
Stock-car racing is popular in Michigan, of course, as is anything to do with Detroit iron. But here’s the kicker: Overall, NASCAR fans are not as GOP-oriented as you think. So Romney’s appearance could help him with voters overall.
As conservative commentator S.E. Cupp noted in an article on NASCAR’s own website prior to the 2008 election, NASCAR’s audience is massive – some 70 million fans – and politically diverse.
“Its fans vote 35 percent Republican and 28 percent Democratic – a separation of only 7 percentage points, hardly a convincing argument for NASCAR’s political leanings,” Ms. Cupp wrote.
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It happened Friday in Detroit, as the presidential candidate was trying to emphasize his connections to Michigan – and to American-made cars – ahead of a highly important primary vote in that state on Tuesday.
The Republican candidate mentioned the multiple cars that he and his wife drive as part of a larger nod to the state where he grew up.
“This feels good, being back in Michigan," Romney said. "You know, the trees are the right height. The streets are just right. I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually. And I used to have a Dodge truck, so I used to have all three [Detroit carmakers] covered.”
But the comment also could rub many Americans the wrong way, a reminder that as someone with huge wealth, Romney may be out of touch with the realities and needs of ordinary Americans. At the very least, it provides fodder for critics to try to use his statement to make that impression.
Already, a new poll from the Pew Research Center finds that only 29 percent of registered voters see Romney as someone who "understands the needs of people like you." That's down from 37 percent last November, and it's part of a broader trend of fading public approval for Romney amid hard-fought primaries that have featured negative ads coming at Romney and from him toward other candidates.
The comment joins a series of perceived gaffes by the former Massachusetts governor, including some that have cast his wealth in a negative light. During one televised debate, for example, he offered a $10,000 bet to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a former rival for the nomination.
The automotive comment also fell on a day when Romney was making what was billed as a major economic policy speech, to the Detroit Economic Club. The crowd was largely supportive, as he spelled out plans for tax cuts, reining in federal spending, and reviving a spirit of opportunity and entrepreneurialism.
It's not that Romney always creates problems when he goes off script. During the speech itself, he departed from his prepared remarks at other times without any glitch.
But the remark about Cadillacs, luxury cars made by GM, almost immediately drew media attention away from the body of his speech.
A Romney campaign aide explained after the speech that Mrs. Romney uses two Cadillacs, one registered in Massachusetts and one in California, according to Boston Globe report. The two cars are SRX Cadillacs, one a 2007 model and one a 2010, the Globe reported.
Vehicles can emerge during political campaigns as potent personal symbols. In the run-up to Tuesday's Michigan primary, the car industry is also important as a symbol of the state's economy and of controversial economic-policy choices.
Romney isn't unusual among Republicans in voicing disapproval of the auto industry bailout that was begun under President Bush and expanded by President Obama. But opponents are using the issue against Romney.
Romney, in his speech, said "Michigan needs a strong auto industry," saying that this goal would be aided by getting "government out of General Motors."
The Michigan primary offers Romney an important opportunity to try to regain momentum in the state where he grew up, and where his father served as a popular governor.
We ask this question because it draws together some criticisms of the ex-Pennsylvania senator that have been pinging around the conservative blogosphere in recent days.
It’s a political truism that Americans like their presidential candidates, and their presidents, to be optimistic, even sunny. Think Ronald Reagan, or Bill Clinton when he wasn’t answering questions dealing with impeachment.
But in recent weeks, as he talks about his beliefs on issues from economics to the needs of families, this is not always how Mr. Santorum has come across. In recent days Santorum and his aides have been grumbling that Mitt Romney and Ron Paul conspired against him in Wednesday’s CNN debate, for instance.
“Santorum already has a reputation for being thin-skinned and peevish,” wrote conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin today on her Right Turn blog in The Washington Post. “This tactic certainly [makes] him seem like a poor sport.”
Of course, the GOP race as a whole has not been distinguished by its cheerfulness. That’s what former Florida Governor and brother-of-W Jeb Bush was getting at Thursday night when he said he finds it “troubling” that the Republican candidates are “appealing to people’s fears and emotions.”
According to an account on Fox News, answering questions following a speech in Dallas, Jeb Bush said “I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and I’m wondering, I don’t think I’ve changed, but it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective.... I think it changes when we get to the general election. I hope.”
Plus, many Republicans feel strongly about ousting President Obama, and are responding to rhetoric that they consider rousing. Thus in his speech to the Maricopa County Lincoln Day lunch last week, Santorum ended with the tough words, “It is your honor at stake. Will you be the generation that lets the flame go out? Will you be the generation that succumbs to the siren song that government can do for you" what you can do for yourself?
Maricopa County Republicans gave Santorum a standing ovation for this call. But as Kimberly Strassel writes today in her column for The Wall Street Journal editorial page, US presidential elections are not won by political party bases. They are won at the margins of the electorate, by winning over swing voters. And right now, those margins are not thrilled about the seeming willingness of social conservatives to impose their views of morality on the nation.
This is “a trend that Mr. Santorum would seem to highlight,” writes Ms. Strassel in her piece, which is headlined “Moralizer in Chief?”
Santorum is a man of evident deep faith who speaks often of the need to revitalize religious institutions and families. Yet he’s also “left many Americans with the impression that he believes it is his job as president to revitalize these institutions,” according to Strassel, who adds that Santorum needs to find “a less judgmental way of discussing social issues.”
That said, not everyone agrees Santorum seems more of a scold than others in the GOP field. At an American Enterprise Institute political seminar on Tuesday, AEI scholar Henry Olsen said, “Santorum, despite his lapses into moralism, is somebody who presents a sunnier personality than Newt Gingrich, a more consistent personality than Newt Gingrich, is somebody who is clearly intelligent and conversant with the issues, unlike Gov. Rick Perry, and is somebody who is not prone to demagogic bombast as are some of the other candidates.”
Mitt Romney has been running for president virtually nonstop for five years. After all that time and tens of millions of campaign dollars spent, he now faces “Mittmageddon,” a single day upon which his political future may depend.
That day is next Tuesday, Feb. 28. Republican primaries are scheduled then in Michigan, Romney’s professed home state; and Arizona, a Western state with a large Mormon population. If Romney loses both – which is possible, though not necessarily likely – his path to the GOP nomination would become formidably rocky.
He would have forfeited his early lead in polls and burned through much of the cash cushion that has long been his biggest campaign advantage. In January, the Romney campaign spent some $12 million more than it brought in, possibly a record for any presidential effort. At the beginning of February he had about $7 million in the bank.
We’ll take Michigan first. Romney grew up there, his father was governor, and to older Mitten State residents, the Romney name is still golden. Mitt won the 2008 GOP primary but now trails Rick Santorum in 2012 Michigan polls.
Right now Mr. Santorum is up over Romney by a close 0.8 percent in the RealClearPolitics rolling average of Michigan surveys. Interestingly, both candidates in recent days have trended up, meaning that they’re stealing votes from Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul as they batter towards a photo finish.
An NBC/Marist poll released today has the pair essentially tied in the state.
“Santorum’s appeal is on social issues, and he is seen as the true conservative,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “Romney’s strong suit is electability, and most voters think he will be the nominee.”
Here’s why Michigan is so important: As we’ve written before, no one running for the presidential nomination of a major party has lost their home state in a primary since the advent of the modern primary era in 1972.
As an aside, no party nominee has lost their state in the general election, and won the presidency, either.
As for Arizona, that has long been considered a Romney stronghold. But a Feb. 21 poll from CNN/Time suggests that Santorum is closing the gap. It had Romney ahead by 36 to 32 percent. That’s within the survey’s margin of error, meaning that it shows the candidates essentially tied.
Arizona has not been considered fruitful territory for Santorum, given that his populist economics and emphasis on social issues does not match with the state’s libertarian heritage. But it’s possible that his forceful condemnations of the Obama administration are ringing true in a state where confrontation with Washington over illegal immigration has become a defining issue.
On Tuesday, for instance, Santorum gave the keynote speech at the Maricopa County Lincoln Day Lunch and Presidential Straw Poll. He brought the crowd to its feet in a standing ovation by denouncing what he called the administration’s intrusions into personal rights.
“We don’t want to be ruled. You have an opportunity in this election that generations don’t always get to strike a blow for freedom,” said Santorum.
Arizona has not been polled as much as some other primary states, and in any case state primary polling is more difficult to get right than national surveys. It’s possible that CNN/Time has captured Santorum’s rise in Arizona. It’s also possible the poll is an outlier. The RealClearPolitics rolling average has Romney ahead by 8.2 percent in the state, meaning he may yet escape the Grand Canyon State with a win.