Thursday, January 5, 2012
Santorum's Michigan Problem
Just a quick follow-up to yesterday's long message on the Republican presidential primary, this time focusing on what I meant about the problem the Santorum campaign faces in building a national campaign after Iowa and New Hampshire. The news reports of the presidential primary will often focus on where the candidates stand in the polls. But to actually win an election you need to have an organization in place that will get your message out to voters and make sure that your voters show up to support you on election day.
This article from mlive.com has the absolutely perfect summary of what I was talking about:
Rick Santorum's Michigan campaign limited to a Facebook Page managed by Grandville man
The title says it all, but the article also has some interesting information on how the Republican delegates from Michigan will be allocated. Michigan has a fairly easy qualification threshold for candidates that I won't go into here, so presumably Santorum will be on the Michigan ballot. Even appearing on the ballot has been challenge for Santorum and other candidates in some states, most notably Virginia where he, Gingrich, and Perry failed to collect the 10,000 valid signatures required to appear on that state's ballot.
But once on the ballot, how does Santorum compete for delegates here? Part of the answer lies in how the Michigan GOP will allocate its delegates. Michigan's Republican Presidential primary has 59 delegates up for grabs. Seventeen of them are awarded proportionately based on how the candidates fare in the statewide vote count. The remaining 42 of are allocated three apiece across the state's 14 congressional districts, where (I believe) all three are awarded to the winner of each district.
This may seem an unduly convoluted system to a lot of folks, but it's actually a pretty good system for ensuring that campaigns truly reach out across the state to engage with congressional districts, and don't just fly in, drop a bunch of TV ads on folks, and fly out. It's really a system that gives candidates with organizational savvy and party support a chance to compete effectively against deep-pocket media campaigns. It also does a good job of setting up the in-state organization that candidates will need to compete in the general election.
So, to compete most effectively for Michigan's 59 delegates you need to run a good statewide campaign, but you also need to put together some organizational competence in each of the 14 congressional districts. As you campaign you would then focus your local efforts on the districts in which you have a chance to win. To do this well you really need a solid statewide organization, as well as organizational support from the local politicians in each district.
What does Rick Santorum have at the moment? One guy with a Facebook page.
What does Mitt Romney have at the moment? Well, his father was a former two-term governor of Michigan, so that's a pretty good start. Plus, whatever work he's already done for this year's primary aside, he also had the a pretty solid organization in Michigan in 2008 where he won the state and beat McCain 39% to 30% and more importantly received 24 delegates compared to 5 delegates for McCain and one for Mike Huckabee. (Michigan was stripped of nearly half of its delegation in 2008 for holding an early primary.)
It's safe to say that Romney has a fair-sized headstart over Santorum in Michigan.
This year the campaign calendar around this event looks like this:
Feb. 4 - Maine, Nevada
Feb. 7 - Colorado, Minnesota
Feb. 28 - Arizona, Michigan
March 3 - Washington
March 6 - Super Tuesday (13 states)
So, Santorum has a two-week window to focus on Arizona and Michgan. However, Super Tuesday comes just one week after Arizona and Michigan, and that's the day that will probably do the most to decide the eventual Republican nominee. And on Super Tuesday Santorum faces his Michigan problem, times thirteen.
So what does the Santorum candidacy do? A lot of his strategic advantage over Romney is his potential to win working-class votes in Rust Belt states like Michigan. But Michigan looks to me like an awfully steep hill to climb between now and Feb. 28. The other state on that day is Arizona, where Romney can call on a solid Mormon base, his recent endorsement from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and a nice tan that should play well in the TV ads in the Sun Belt. Hardly an enticing prospect, either.
My guess is that if Santorum does manage to secure the Anybody-But-Romney vote after South Carolina, he may run a token media campaign in Arizona and Michigan if the polls look like he can peel off some delegates. But he'll really be putting all his effort into the Super Tuesday states.
Michigan may never see more of Rick Santorum in the 2012 primary than that Facebook page run by a guy in Granville.