MICHIGAN CAGE MATCH
Mitt "The Raider" Romney vs. "Prayerful" Rick Santorum vs. Ron " The Gold Standard" Paul vs. "Grandiose" Newt Gingrich
But could the outcome here help steer Republicans to a brokered election?
Published: February 22, 2012
In the campaign to win the Republican presidential nomination, Michigan is suddenly relevant.
For Mitt Romney, whose father served six successful years as the state's governor, victory in his native state seemed all but assured back in January.
Now, the former Massachusetts governor and corporate takeover specialist is facing a critical test as Michigan's Republican voters prepare for the Feb. 28 primary election.
Lose here — in a state where he won the 2008 primary and, until recently, appeared to have an insurmountable advantage this time around — and the Romney campaign will limp away, badly wounded.
If that happens, according to a pair of respected Michigan political observers, we could possibly see something that hasn't occurred in more than a half century: a "brokered" Republican National Convention where no candidate comes in with enough delegates to win the nomination in the first round of voting.
Should that occur, well, all bets could be off in terms of whom the GOP chooses to challenge President Barack Obama come November.
But don't go speculating too much just yet about potential dark horses waiting in the GOP stables for a surprise run.
As the now hotly contested Michigan primary race shows, the free-for-all that is this year's Republican presidential nominating process can quickly make what passes for conventional political wisdom seem surprisingly foolish.
Only three weeks ago, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's campaign appeared to be flirting with complete irrelevance. After a strong Jan. 3 showing in the Iowa caucuses, where his brand of social conservatism plays well, Santorum's star faded to the point where some pundits were beginning to question how long he could stay in the race.
Since the start of the primary season, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has fended off one challenger after another from the party's right wing.
Candidates that gained support by waving their social-conservative credentials rose and fell in quick succession as the religious fundamentalists who form a key part of the GOP base kept searching for someone who was ABR — anyone but Romney.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain all, in rapid succession, appeared to pose a serious threat to the more moderate Romney, and then quickly fell by the wayside.
Then it was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who surged to the forefront (after rising and then falling in Iowa), using a strong debate performance to capture a decisive victory in South Carolina, giving him great momentum going into Florida, a state rich in delegates.
But, as they did when Gingrich posed a threat in Iowa, Romney and the Super PAC supporting him responded with a barrage of attack ads slamming Gingrich for being a "Washington insider" weighed down with "baggage."
As a result, Florida voters dealt a significant setback to Gingrich, and gave Romney a much-needed win; it was also an apparent ticket to Loserville for Santorum.
As Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post reported after Santorum's third-place finish in the Sunshine State, he was "short on cash" and the "odd man out in what is shaping up to be a two-man contest."
Then, to the surprise of many so-called experts, Santorum responded by sweeping three contests held earlier this month, capturing first place in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. That embarrassing setback for Romney set the stage for a potentially pivotal showdown here in Michigan.
Suddenly, Rick Santorum was again relevant.
That new viability was why nearly 1,500 people turned out during the day last Thursday to cheer on the grandson of a Pennsylvania coal miner at a rally held in Shelby Township.
Appearing boyish and upbeat, Santorum took direct aim at President Barack Obama and indirect shots at Romney.
As for the president, the health care reform derisively dubbed "Obamacare" by conservatives is nothing less than a threat to the very foundations of liberty that Americans hold dear, Santorum declared.
Despite the fact that passing health care reform was one of the key themes in Obama's 2008 campaign, the watered-down legislation that eventually made its way into law was "shoved down America's throat" in the narrative presented by Santorum.
Speaking to a crowd where the only African-American faces visible were among the gospel singers performing before Santorum's speech, the former senator paid homage to the vocal contingent of Tea Party members attending the rally, saying, "thank God" they were there during the 2010 election, when the group helped the GOP regain control of the House of Representatives.
As for Romney, Santorum didn't mention his primary opponent by name, but his reference to the Michigan native son was unmistakable.
Decrying the "snobbish elite who believe they know what's best for you," Santorum urged those in attendance to reject those candidates who would just "manage Washington a little better."
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