Might Mitt Romney win Michigan in November? That question arises because the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is touring Michigan Tuesday and Wednesday at the end of his six-state “Every Town Counts” bus tour. Mr. Romney was born in the Wolverine State, of course, and his father was a popular Michigan governor. He predicts he’ll take the state despite the fact that it has gone Democratic for five presidential elections in a row.
“I’m going to win Michigan with your help!” Romney on Tuesday told a rally in the quaint vacation town of Frankenmuth.
Why the optimism? Well, at this stage in the race all candidates are optimistic about everything – they have to be. But here are three reasons Michigan might be an attainable goal for the Romney campaign.
FAMILY TIES. Michiganders of a certain age remember the state’s George Romney era fondly. A backslapping, genial ex-auto exec, Romney père presided over Michigan’s 1960s-era boom. His status as a moderate Rockefeller Republican could help counterbalance Romney the son’s drift to the right.
REAGAN DEMOCRATS. In the 1980s, Michigan autoworkers defined the term “Reagan Democrat.” The state voted for Reagan twice and for George H.W. Bush once. White working-class voters are a particular problem area for President Obama, and they were a “dominant element” in the state’s electoral equation in 2008, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of Michigan demographics.
DETROIT’S DECLINE. Big urban areas in general are Democratic strongholds, and Detroit is no exception. There’s a reason Democratic candidates often kick off their fall campaigns with a Labor Day rally in the union-centric Motor City. But Detroit isn’t what it used to be, Clint Eastwood Chrysler Super Bowl ads notwithstanding. The city’s population has fallen by 25 percent over the past 10 years, and its Democratic political machine is crumbling.
Still, winning Michigan would be a stretch for a Republican who himself was governor of Massachusetts and maintains homes in New Hampshire and California. Here are three reasons Romney might better concentrate on Florida or other swing states more within his reach.
WHAT FAMILY TIES? Nobody in the state under age 50 remembers George Romney anymore – that was a long time ago. The young Mitt went to Cranbrook, a private school as exclusive as any in the country. The auto industry's lovely car ads are filmed there. They aren’t doing that at public high schools in, say, Flint.
TWO WORDS: “AUTO BAILOUT.” Romney famously opposed Mr. Obama’s auto bailout, although he now argues that bailout followed a pattern he suggested. Whatever the details, this is an issue the Obama campaign will try to exploit throughout Michigan and the industrial upper Midwest. GM is alive, and it’s hard to exaggerate how much that means to Michiganders, even in the nonmean streets of Romney’s hometown of Grosse Pointe.
THE POLLS DON’T LOOK GOOD. The latest RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls puts Romney 5.4 percentage points behind Obama, 42.6 percent to 48 percent. The most recent individual survey wrapped into those numbers, a mid-June poll from Rasmussen Reports, had Romney down by a whopping 8 points. That’s not a fatal deficit, but it’s a fairly deep hole from which Romney will have to extricate himself to win the state.