Matt Lewis

Why Michigan will probably get ugly

Public Policy Polling has former Sen. Rick Santorum beating former Gov. Mitt Romney pretty handily in Michigan. This, of course, is just one poll — just a “snapshot” of the race today. Things can certainly change between now and February 28.

But considering the high expectations for Romney (he won the GOP primary there last time, and his father George Romney was Michigan’s governor), a loss could be devastating. The real problem for Romney is that the expectations are a bit misleading.

Sure, Romney won the primary in 2008, but he was the conservative alternative to John McCain. This time around, he’s the establishment pick. What is more, the Romney name may not carry as much weight there as some in the national media assume. George Romney hasn’t been governor for 43 years. Mitt decided to run for office in Massachusetts — not Michigan. And ex-sister-in-law Ronna Romney has had a mixed record of winning elections in the state.

The notion that a Romney can’t lose Michigan seems flawed.

John Dunagan, a public affairs executive at DDC Advocacy — who served as executive director for the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign in Michigan — believes Romney will have to run up the score in Detroit suburbs of Oakland and Macomb Counties if he is to overcome Santorum’s natural advantages among the state’s cultural conservatives and blue collar workers.

“The western and northern part of the state seems to fit Santorum better,” Dunagan said.

“Michigan Republicans love to fish. And they love their boats. And they love the Red Wings. And they love to go to church. And that profile could be very helpful to Senator Santorum,” he added.

Ultimately, though, Dunagan believes Romney will somehow find a way to win the state — that it could end up a lot like Florida — where Romney ran millions of dollars of negative ads to defeat Newt Gingrich.

“I don’t think [Romney] can suffer a loss there, so they will do the ‘spend whatever it takes strategy,'” he said.

Note: This post has been updated. An early version mistakenly said Romney won the Michigan primary in 2004 (obviously, it was 2008.)