The real problem with Mitt Romney's birth certificate joke

Campaigning in Michigan, Mitt Romney quipped that no one has ever asked to see his birth certificate – a nod to anti-Obama 'birthers.' But what was he doing in Michigan?

Evan Vucci/AP
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally on Friday in Commerce Township, Mich.

While campaigning in Michigan on Friday, Mitt Romney made a groaner of a birth certificate joke. We’ll give you the whole statement so you can judge it for yourself.

“Now I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born,” the presumptive GOP nominee told a big crowd at a picturesque Commerce Township farm. "Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital. No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.”

As you might expect, Democrats and Republicans reacted to this development in, uh, different ways. To Democrats, the remark showed how Mr. Romney is cuddling up with Donald Trump and the "birther" crowd, trying to subtly portray President Obama as un-American, and so forth.

“Throughout this campaign, Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them.... But Governor Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt in a statement, according to Politico.

To Republicans, the whole thing exposed the hypocrisy of Democrats who stood by while a pro-Obama "super political-action committee" ran an ad implying that the actions of Romney’s Bain Capital led to a woman’s death from lack of health insurance. Plus, it was just a joke, see?

“The joke wasn’t so funny, but the mock horror of the left and the Obama campaign along with the furrowed brows of news anchors is hysterical,” writes conservative Jennifer Rubin Friday on her Washington Post Right Turn blog.

But we think there’s a genuine problem with the joke that neither side has yet touched on. It was made in Michigan. Why is Mitt Romney wasting time appearing in a state that he is very likely to lose?

Yes, it is his home state. Yes, he won the Michigan primary. But we’ll remind you that his victory over Rick Santorum was a squeaker. Michigan leans blue, Romney opposed the auto bailout, and he moved away long ago to Massachusetts and other pastures. His father, George Romney, was a beloved Michigan governor – over 40 years ago.

The RealClearPolitics rolling average of Michigan polls has Obama up by four points. That’s not a huge margin, but in the New York Times FiveThirtyEight polling blog election model, Mr. Obama’s chance of winning Michigan is pegged at an overwhelming 89.6 percent.

If Romney is going to campaign in the upper Midwest, he should spend every second in Ohio, the most important of all the swing states. He should buy a vacation home in Ohio, or move to Ohio. Maybe he could rename his son Tagg “Tohio.” The point is, he should be maximizing his opportunities and making the best use of his time.

If he gets tired of Ohio he could go to Wisconsin. The addition of Rep. Paul Ryan to his ticket may have put the Badger State in play. But Michigan? It’s down the list.

So why was he there? Maybe he just wanted to be photographed in front of the iconic red barn at the Long Family Farm in Clarkson, where he appeared. Maybe he was paying back a campaign debt from primary days. Farm owner Chris Long is a GOP county commissioner.

But we think he’d have been better off south of the state border. In Ohio.

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