Today's polling shows a close race for the Republican candidates in Michigan: PPP and WeAskAmerica each have the current frontrunner Mitt Romney leading by 2 and 4 points in the state primary, while the Mitchell/Rosetta Stone poll has his nearest rival Rick Santorum +2 ahead.
Arizona, a state that is home to a significant Mormon population, is expected to be won by the former Massachusetts governor: the polls give Romney a 13-16 point lead on Santorum.
Most tellingly, however, an overall Republican nominee race poll commissioned by Gallup on Sunday showed Romney ahead by a mere two points (Santorum 29, Romney 31, Gingrich 15, Paul 11); today a Politico poll switches this, giving Santorum the slim lead (Santorum 36, Romney 34, Gingrich 13, Paul 7).
The state of Michigan offers 30 delegate votes, awarded proportionally in relation to the state's 14 congressional districts. Likewise, Arizona has 29 delegates up for grabs. The Republican candidate Newt Gingrich has not campaigned at all in the Great Lake state, while Ron Paul appeared there only in the last three days.
1) Lose-lose for Romney in home state?
Over at the New York Daily News, Jonathan Lemire argues that whether or not Romney wins Michigan -- the state in which he was born and his father George W. Romney was a governor -- the outcome of tomorrow's primary could be a disaster for his campaign:
If he loses, the defeat would be devastating and could destroy his campaign.
A narrow victory, which the polls now suggest, would open Romney to a slew of questions about why he had such trouble banking a win on his home turf.
And even if he prevails in a rout, his positions and recent rhetoric that appeal to right-wing Michigan voters -- particularly on the auto industry bailout -- may cost him the swing state in November.
Rick Klein at ABC News has a similar warning; that Romney's challenges are growing rather than shrinking as the primary season develops:
Romney's struggle to close the deal in Michigan, where his family has deep roots and where he cruised to victory four years ago, is underscoring longstanding concerns about his candidacy, in addition to creating new ones.
. . . Besides having to answer questions about whether he's conservative enough, Romney now has to beat back suggestions that he can't connect with blue-collar voters whose support he'd need in the fall. Michigan, with its high unemployment and battered manufacturing base, is filled with the kind of voters whose support will determine the presidency in November.
2) The rhetoric shifts, again
Appealing to voters of modest incomes is exactly the task Santorum set himself over the weekend. In a scathing attack to his rival after a weak performance in the most recent GOP debate, Santorum told conservatives in a suburban neighbourhood of Detroit on Saturday:
I didn't blow in the wind when things were popular with the elite, because I don't come from the elite.
And on Romney's wavering positions over global warming and the deficit, Santorum blasted:
Maybe he doesn't understand what the term "resolute" means. It means that you're supposed to have a resolve or a consistent pattern of beliefs.
That evening, his attack on Obama was bizarrely anti-education -- and according to the Post's Eugene Robinson, "ridiculous, offensive, hypocritical":
President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day, and put their skills to test, that aren't taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why [Obama] wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Martin at Politico noted that Romney has not been faux pas-free in recent days:
The former Massachusetts governor demonstrated again in a Detroit speech Friday how he can be a political hazard to himself when he veers off-script. Romney's wife, he explained in a state with 9.3 percent unemployment and in a city blighted by abandoned and decaying homes, "drives a couple of Cadillacs."
. . . Part of the front-runner's difficulty closing the deal is plainly a product of his distant, mechanical style. He bursts with specificity and disgorges a dazzling array of numbers, but conservatives aren't brought to their feet by a recitation of just how many Americans work for companies that file their federal taxes as individuals rather than as corporations.
3) Democrats call for Paul; could upset the vote
Perhaps the biggest unknown hanging over Michigan is what role Democrats will play in the "open" primary. With cross-party voters allowed to take to the state's GOP ballot, The Week has rounded up some of the possible outcomes of a Democratic attempt to spoil the race for Romney. The Detroit Free Press also reported today on the Democrat activists hoping to snag some delegates for the libertarian candidate Ron Paul; at this stage rather an outlier in the race, but votes for whom could further weaken Romney's standing as the man to lead the Republican party.