Mittmageddon: Why Mitt Romney faces an electoral day of truth Tuesday

Mitt Romney now faces 'Mittmageddon,' a single day upon which his political future may depend. Republican primaries in Michigan and Arizona Tuesday are nearly a must-win.

Gerald Herbert/AP
In this file photo taken last week, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.

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.

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