Special Note: Post updated January 19th, 2008 at 11:30 P.M. MST to correct erroneous delegate totals. Corrections posted in green.
At the last moment, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered the message working-class Michigan voters wanted to hear, and in return, they delivered the state to him in the January 15th Michigan primary, giving him his second victory (Wyoming was his first). Local Utah media stories published in the Deseret Morning News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and aired on KSL Channel 5, and KTVX Channel 4, and KUTV Channel 2. Mainstream media reports from CNN and CBS.
Unlike John McCain, who effectively told Michigan voters that Motor City jobs were gone and not coming back, Mitt Romney pledged to use his influence to help revitalize America's auto industry. And it paid off for Mitt. A week before the Michigan primary, John McCain had caught up with Romney and inched ahead. But the Romney speech stopped and reversed that trend, and the polls picked it up at the last moment. Here's how RealClearPolitics called it, with their aggregate numbers combining the results of several polls:
Mitt Romney: 29.0
John McCain: 26.3
Mike Huckabee: 16.3
Ron Paul: 5.8
Fred Thompson: 5.0
Rudy Giuliani: 4.2
The committed delegate count before this primary was Mitt Romney 19, Mike Huckabee 31, John McCain 7, Fred Thompson 3, Duncan Hunter 1
Compare this with the actual outcome as tabulated by ABC News, with 99% of the vote counted so far, and you'll see it matched the polls almost exactly:
Candidate, Votes, Vote %, Delegates (30 delegates possible)
Mitt Romney: 337,843 votes, 39%, 23 delegates
John McCain: 258,720 votes, 30%, 6 delegates
Mike Huckabee: 139,942 votes, 16%, 1 delegate
Ron Paul: 54,412 votes, 6%, 0 delegates
Fred Thompson: 32,130 votes, 4%, 0 delegates
Rudi Giuliani: 24,708 votes, 3%, 0 delegates
Uncommitted: 18,003 votes, 2%, 0 delegates
Duncan Hunter: 2,830 votes, LT1%, 0 delegates
The new committed delegate count ended up Romney 42, Huckabee 32, McCain 13, Thompson 3, and Hunter 1.
Before a packed house in a Michigan ballroom, Romney characterized his performance as a victory of optimism over pessimism. "This is the beginning of a comeback for America. Only a week ago a win looked like it was impossible but then you got out and told America what they wanted to hear." Of course, Romney also got a "favorite son" bump, since his father was once a Michigan governor.
Between chants of Romney's first name, the presidential candidate pledged to fight on for jobs, a pitch that helped seal his victory in this state facing economic crisis. "Tonight proves that you can't tell America there is something they just can't do," Romney said, taking a not-so-veiled shot at McCain's remark that Michigan's lost auto-industry jobs were not coming back. "Tonight is the victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism."
Romney pledged to continue working to strengthen the economy, a message that clearly resonated with Michigan voters and one he said he'll bring to South Carolina, Nevada and Florida, which are the next states to vote. "I will never accept defeat for any industry here in America. We'll fight for them," Romney said to cheers.
McCain had just begun his concession speech when Romney decided to take his victory turn before TV cameras. Every cable station covering the election immediately switched to the winner, cutting off McCain abruptly.
In the brief remarks that were broadcast live, McCain took the defeat in stride. "For a minute there in New Hampshire, I thought this campaign might be getting easier. . . . We've got pretty good at doing things the hard way," said McCain, a veteran and Vietnam prisoner of war. "I think we've shown them we don't mind a fight."
Romney's victory boosts his momentum going into three important primaries, in South Carolina on January 19th, where he's currently trailing both John McCain and Mike Huckabee, Nevada on January 19th, where he's currently trailing both McCain and Giuliani, and Florida, and the big event, Super Duper Tuesday February 5th with 22 primaries, including Utah, up for grabs.
Political scientists warned that Romney needed a victory after two sound defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire. Romney had outspent competitors in both those states but still garnered only second place. However, astrong second place finish would not have deterred Romney, not with the financial resources available to him.
What makes this primary different is that it was the first time that Mitt Romney has explicitly reached out to Middle America. Until this campaign, he was widely perceived as the corporate candidate. If Romney continues to reach out more explicitly to Middle America, he will gain even more support. Many Americans are tired of the Republican Party being a party of plutocracy; the Republicans cannot take the White House on the backs of a bunch of Rush-O'Reilly-Hannity sound bites. The Republicans must also be a working-class party to defeat the Democrats.
Unfortunately, one of the victims of this new strategy will be Ron Paul. Having had his immigration agenda hijacked by Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul now finds himself slowly losing his economic agenda to Mitt Romney. In addition, Ron Paul has been under incessant attack by anti-racist radicals who've blown a few newsletters out of proportion. Paul did not react very well to this revelation; instead of remaining firmly committed to a non-racist agenda and defending the newsletters, he weakly disavowed the newsletters and started sucking up to Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. He grabbed the life vest of "political correctness", and it may become an anvil instead. Paul's MLK Day Money Bomb will fizzle.
And I believe that's why, although Ron Paul jumped a notch to fourth place in Michigan, he dropped off a couple of percentage points to 6%. One of Ron Paul's cornerstone strengths has been his refusal to be politically correct; if he gives that up, he will become a marginal candidate. As it is now, I have to consider him a second-tier candidate until he restores a clear-cut sense of direction to his campaign.
And how did voters explain their decision for Romney? Randy McCoy, an engineer in the auto industry who was out of work for seven months after losing his job at GM in that company's massive cutbacks three years ago, said that Michigan has "been an awful lonely state, government wise. It seems like the federal government looks over it, around it, but not at it".
Gwen Blandy, a young homemaker, was also buying the message, explaining she's been a Romney supporter since he led the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City from scandal to success. "We are forgotten by a lot of politicians," Blandy said, rocking the youngest of her three children outside the ballroom. "A lot of people here have been aching for jobs."