January 16, 2008

The Michigan Results

Romney has won in Michigan, with 39% of the votes, and so he keeps his hopes alive. McCain had 30%, Huckabee only 16%. It was a convincing victory. Romney was the strongest candidate in all age groups except for those over 60, who went for McCain. Romney also beat Huckabee among both Protestants and Catholics. Meanwhile, McCain carried the Republicans who never go to church, with 39% of that little constituency. Furthermore, as noted in an earlier blog here, Huckabee did extremely poorly among the Catholics, getting less than 10% of their votes. And these are the very conservative, Republican Catholics, who represented about 30% of the vote. Huckabee would have even less appeal to the larger group of Democratic Catholics. In short, Michigan's results suggest that Huckabee may have been a one-win wonder in Iowa, who now must redeem himself in South Carolina next week, if he is to look viable. 

McCain, on the other hand, did respectably in Michigan, which after all is Romney's former home state. It is hard to beat an opponent who can bring his old schoolteacher and classmates up on stage. Nevertheless, if we probe these results further, it turns out that voters who think the economy is on the right track and who are generally satisfied voted for Romney. The unhappy voters were more likely to be for McCain, whether they were upset by Bush in particular, the poor Iraq results, or the economy.  McCain also was relatively successful with Independents and Democrats, some of whom crossed over to vote for him. Finally, McCain defeated Romney in urban areas (40% to 31%), which is obviously important in the coming contests for New York and California.  So while he lost, McCain showed that he can appeal across party lines, and remains in a good position for the contest in South Carolina.  In terms of money, however, Romney has $60 million to McCain's $31 million, a difference which could begin to be a real problem for McCain by February. 

There are also three footnotes to these Republican results. The first is the strange failure of Giuliani to put up any fight at all, as he dropped to just 3%. Perhaps if neither Romney nor McCain can win an advantage soon, this strategy will yet be vindicated, but it looks like a long shot. Only slightly better was Fred Thompson's 4% showing. He seems unable to ignite his campaign, and one suspects that he is staying in the race in order to have a shot at being the vice-presidential nominee. Indeed, perhaps that is Giuliani's idea as well. If he can show he is strong in Florida, he becomes an attractive VP who can deliver that vital swing state and help carry New York. Finally, there is Paul's fascinating maverick candidacy. He describes himself as an old-fashioned strict constructionist of the Constitution. He is so far to the right that he emerges on the left on some issues, notably Iraq, where he advocates withdrawal. If you have not seen him in the debates, pay more attention, for the Texas congressman has some vocal supporters, as he calls for balancing the budget, an end to military adventurism abroad, and a return to the foreign policy of Thomas Jefferson. I strongly doubt that he is seeking the vice-presidential nomination, and he is smart enough to know that he is but an articulate gadfly. If nothing else, he shows how boring Fred Thompson is by comparison.

Meanwhile, Hillary won, running unopposed, and will get zero delegates, because the Democratic Party is punishing Michigan for advancing its primary date, as discussed a few days ago here. A notable 43% did not support her in the absence of other candidates. The real action was out in Nevada, where delegates can be won or lost, and where a debate took place yesterday. It apparently was a particularly friendly affair, as the three main candidates made a point of not attacking one another. After some un-pleasantries earlier in the week over the relative contributions of Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson, it seems that Clinton and Obama have returned to their senses. Arguing about events that took place 40 years ago, and bringing up race, were just not going to sell either candidate to the electorate.

One final aspect of the Michigan vote needs to be emphasized. Fully 46% of those exit-polled admitted that they did not make up their minds until this week. Indeed, more than 30% made up their minds during the last three days. As in Iowa and New Hampshire, this remains a fickle electorate, one that can be swayed by small events or media images right up to the end. The last minute shifts on the whole favored Romney. McCain outpolled him (32% to 28%) among those who had decided more than one month ago, but Romney garnered 41% of the voters who decided on the last day, as they neared the ballot box. McCain only got a quarter of these votes, and that represents much of the margin of difference between them.