Five Lessons from Michigan and Arizona

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 29 2012 8:37 AM

Five Lessons from Michigan and Arizona

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- What have we learned?

1) It really is about delegates, at least until April. The Detroit News avoided doing cable-style, bouncing-ball coverage of the primary. Instead, it counted up the votes for each candidate in each Michigan congressional district. The results as of this morning, with Romney in red and Santorum in orange:

Screen shot 2012-02-29 at 9.15.58 AM

At this hour, Romney only won seven of Michigan's 15 districts. Rick Santorum will basically tie him for delegates. The reason: Santorum narrowly won nearly every district with a mix of rural and urban areas, while Romney ran up scores in the wealthier suburban/urban areas. Romney won double-digit landslides in the 8th and 11th districts, the biggest Republican prizes in the state, but got pipped in the massive 1st district by less than one percent. This brings us to another lesson...

2) Romney is no closer to winning Super Tuesday. If he hadn't made the rubble bounce in February's non-binding caucuses, and in Missouri's faux primary, Rick Santorum wouldn't have won his clear claim to be the anti-Romney in Michigan and Arizona. But how did he win those mid-February races? Not with momentum -- he'd gotten creamed in every January contest. He hustled, campaigned, and took advantage of the caucus system; he outperformed every state poll.

Process that, then look at the Super Tuesday map. There are caucuses in Idaho, Alaska, and North Dakota, which together have 97 delegates. There are 101 delegates in Tennessee and Oklahoma, and Santorum outpolls Romney in both states. There are only 58 delegates total in Massachussetts and Vermont, Romney's home turf -- and Massachusetts assigns delegates proportionately. That leaves the candidates fighting for 76 delegates in Georgia and 66 delegates in Ohio.

3) Santorum probably wants to drop the "college is for snobs" stuff. In Michigan, the candidate pulled out a 42-36 win among voters who had no college education whatsoever. The minus: Only 18 percent of voters said they had no college whatsoever. The biggest group of voters in this subset -- 31 percent -- had "some college." And this was why Santorum's "snob" attack was so silly. Barack Obama has never called for all Americans to get four-year degrees in Queer Theory from Oberlin. He's suggested that government should kick in for everyone to get some sort of post-high school training. Trade schools? Those are fine. After the vote, when reporters pressed him on the "snob" question, Santorum's chief strategist John Brabender struggled for the details of Obama's actual plan. It's just not a winning issue.

4) Romney is finally doing better with self-identified Republicans. In Iowa, Mitt Romney lost Republicans by 2 points. In South Carolina, he lost them by 17. But in every subsequent state he's done better with Republicans than he's done with everyone who turned out. In Florida, he won 46 percent overall but 48 percent of Republicans. In Nevada: 50 percent overall, 56 percent of Republicans. In Arizona: 47 percent overall, 51 percent of Republicans. In Michigan: 41 percent overall, 48 percent of Republicans. Here is the best/only example of momentum: Republican voters who typically rally around the "frontrunner" are slowly, slowly traveling into the Mitt tent.

5) Ron Paul is still doubling up his 2008 numbers 2-1. In 2008, he won 22,692 votes in Arizona, 4 percent overall. This year: 38,753 votes, 8 percent. In 2008 he won 54,475 votes in Michigan, six percent overall. This year: 115,956 votes, 12 percent. Paul has now won 437,869 votes -- more than he got nationwide when he was the 2008 Libertarian Party nominee for president. This was his worst night of the primary so far when it came to delegates, but he gets some bragging rights anyway.

SPECIAL BONUS LESSON) Nope, still no Democratic anti-Obama backlash. Fewer than 200,000 Michiganders pulled Democratic ballots, but of that sample only 20,339 voted for "Uncommitted" over the president. That was only 10 percent of the total, and only a little more than the number of Republicans who voted for uncommitted over one of their less-than-perfect choices.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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