Up until a few weeks ago, Romney was counting on a strong showing here to put this race to bed. But this year’s GOP base aren’t cooperating.
And nobody’s going to bed tonight, that’s for sure. The latest polls show a neck-and-neck race between Romney and Rick Santorum, after two weeks of roller-coastering up and down. Stats wizard Nate Silver, who had still shown the state as Romney’s as recently as the weekend, now says it’s too close to call as well.
The momentum today seems to be with the Santorum camp, for two big reasons:
- The auto bailout. Romney opposed the bailout, famously saying the US should let Detroit fail. Michigan workers who have jobs today because of President Obama aren’t taking too kindly to that, and word is that a lot of Democrats and Independents who might not normally vote in the GOP primary (which is open to all) are coming out to specifically stick it in Romney’s eye by voting Santorum
- Romney didn’t help himself with a series of awkward missteps, from giving a luke-warm economic speech in a painfully-empty sports stadium, to his out-of-touch-with-the-common-man bragging about how many cars he owns, to his latest comments that “I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am” – after bending over backwards, changing positions left and right, and, as analyst Charlie Cook put it, bending himself “into a pretzle”. Even his own campaign staff are calling his affect “weird detachment.”
How bad is it? Conservative activist Michael Gerson is severely worried about the way Mittens turns off working-class whites, a block of voters the GOP has been very good at enticing into voting against their own economic interests:
These blunders not only reinforce a traditional Republican weakness, they threaten to diminish a large Republican advantage — Barack Obama’s dramatic disconnect with blue-collar whites. [Obama] lost white working-class voters by 18 points in 2008. In 2010, congressional Democrats lost the same group by 30 points. A similarly dismal performance by Obama in 2012 would open vast blue portions of the electoral map to Republican raids.
Romney may be the only candidate capable of herding working-class voters back toward the president.
Oh, and Romney’s camp is whining about Santorum encouraging Democrats to cross over and vote in the open GOP primary. They say that’s unacceptable – even though Romney has bragged about doing exactly the same thing in Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, President Obama addressed a United Auto Workers gathering, and took the opportunity to slam Romney’s ridiculous rhetoric on the auto bailout:
With the economy in complete freefall, there weren’t any private companies or investors willing to take a chance on the auto industry. Anyone in the financial sector could tell you that. So we could have kept giving billions of taxpayer dollars to the automakers without demanding real change or accountability in return … The other option we had was to do nothing, and allow these companies to fail. In fact, some politicians said we should. Some even said we should “let Detroit go bankrupt.”
Who said that? Oh yeah… the guy who is now fighting for his life in Michigan. I wonder why he’s in trouble? Obama continued:
…Because I’ve got to admit, it’s been funny to watch some of these politicians completely rewrite history now that you’re back on your feet. These are the folks who said if we went forward with our plan to rescue Detroit, “you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.” Now they’re saying they were right all along. Or worse, they’re saying that the problem is that you, the workers, made out like bandits in all of this; that saving the American auto industry was just about paying back unions. Really? Even by the standards of this town, that’s a load of you-know-what. About 700,000 retirees saw a reduction in the health care benefits they had earned. Many of you saw hours reduced, or pay and wages scaled back. You gave up some of your rights as workers. Promises were made to you over the years that you gave up for the sake and survival of this industry, its workers, and their families. You want to talk about values? Hard work – that’s a value. Looking out for one another – that’s a value. The idea that we’re all in it together – that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper – that is a value.
As Greg Sargent notes at WaPo’s Plum Line blog:
But today’s speech was important: It revealed that the alternate reality Romney has been functioning in throughout the GOP primary is soon going to give way to another reality entirely, a general election reality — and Romney, presuming he will be the nominee, will soon collide with it.