Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Mitt Romney thinks he has Michigan cred, but without an economic program, GOP won’t win the state in 2012

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“I am a son of Detroit. I was born in Harper Hospital and lived in the city until my family moved to Oakland County. I grew up drinking Vernors and watching ballgames at Michigan & Trumbull.” — Mitt Romney

I listened to Ernie Harwell broadcast Tigers games. I’ve seen baseball games at Michigan and Trumbull and the new park. I grew up eating at Big Boy. I have shopped at Meijer’s, often at 3 am. I’ve been drunk in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and Battle Creek and Kalamazoo and Portage and Benton Harbor and St. Joseph and Coloma and Eau Claire and Springfield and Watervliet and Troy and ….

Did I prove enough Michigan cred, yo? Like the former governor of Massachusetts, I grew up in Michigan. Wasn’t born there, didn’t live in the Detroit area. I eaten Detroit Coney hot dogs. And like the former governor, I haven’t lived in Michigan in a long time. Though Romney’s long time is longer than I’ve been alive, and I have spent more time there in recent years than he has.

And unlike Romney, I have spent time within the Benton Harbor city limits. Romney has come closer than any other presidential candidate, speaking at a senior citizens center in St. Joseph.

Romney tried to reprove his cred, a bad sign that maybe you didn’t have much cred to start. Proving your cred with a photo of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and driving a car made in Canada down what we hope are Michigan streets didn’t work out so well.

Mitt Romney won Michigan in 2008 in the GOP primary, but he may have forgotten why he won the Great Lakes State. John McCain said “Some of the jobs that have left the state of Michigan are not coming back.” If McCain had said what he would do about that problem, he might have won the state. But he didn’t, and Romney took the state.

Mitt Romney had his McCain moment with an op-ed in The New York Times in 2008 and an op-ed in the Detroit News in 2012. Like McCain, Romney didn’t address what to do about those jobs.

Rick Santorum thinks he can pick off Michigan. After all, his campaign thinks the candidate appeals to blue-collar people. Virtually no one has said “Reagan Democrats,” but that is Santorum’s key audience. The people who got caught up in social issues while the economy around them burned is just who Santorum needs to beat Romney in his “home” state.

Santorum doesn’t have an economic program to help save or increase jobs in Michigan. Neither candidate has stepped up to say what should or shouldn’t be done about the auto industry, or manufacturing, or retraining. Either Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney will win the Michigan primary, even though both men would have voted against the Detroit bailout. That position will allow one of them to win the state, but will hurt them in November.

Ronald Reagan proved that Michigan voters will vote against their economic pocketbook, but while Michigan voted for Republicans in presidential elections from 1976-1988, they haven’t voted Republican since. As even Republicans will point out, none of the current GOP contenders are Ronald Reagan. If you throw out 2000 and 2004 (for obvious reasons), the last “loser” Michigan voted for was hometown guy Gerald Ford in 1976. Michigan is a state that looks good in the win column.

The GOP had a pretty good shot to take Michigan in the first half of 2008. The Democratic Party got off to a horrible start with Michigan in 2008. The “moving up the primary” and pressure to have candidates remove themselves from the ballot and not campaign in the state, and taking away delegates was a real ugly scene, as I wrote about back in 2008. Perhaps I wrote too much on that topic, but after two presidential elections that were almost certainly stolen, having an upfront election should be a top priority for the Dems.

Barack Obama took his name off the ballot in Michigan, and didn’t personally set foot in Michigan until May, yet he won the state in 2008.

In the end, Obama beat McCain in Michigan because he had the better economic message. Unless Romney or Santorum pull a 180, or in Romney’s case, a Romney, the GOP nominee won’t have a viable economic program to help Michiganders.

Unlike most of the states we’ve seen so far on the primary and caucus merry-go-round, Michigan is a good indicator state on how a candidate will do. The state has liberal pockets and conservative stretches. Hunting is a legitimate sport in this state, even by Democratic people. If the economy is the nationwide issue, Michigan is seen as more valuable since the economy suffers worse than in other states.

Michiganders are used to politicians telling them that their economy will get better. And lately, politicians who will not suck up to them. The citizens of Michigan want answers and success. Barack Obama helped save the Michigan auto industry. The voters are asking Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum what they will do for them. The overall winner will have to come back in the summer and fall and still deal with those questions. How the GOP nominee answers those questions will determine which way this key battleground state will go in 2012.

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