Mitt Romney has to be scratching his head (wonder if he can do that without mussing) about his predicament as he heads into next weeks big primary in Michigan. Most of the recent polling has him behind Rick Santorum in Michigan, with PPP’s newest poll showing Santorum up by 4% (down from a 15% lead a week or so ago). The survey shows Santorum at 37%, Romney at 33%, Ron Paul at 15%, and Newt Gingrich at 10%.
Romney and his team have sought from the very start to run a general election campaign, figuring they would lock down the nomination and not alienate independent voters while doing so. For a while it looked like they might be successful, as they have out-raised, out-organized, and generally out-hustled their Republican opponents. But every time they seem on the verge the Republican electorate drags them back to earth and presents a new challenge. Rick Santorum running the table on the Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri contests certainly brought the Romney doubters forward, and a loss in Michigan for Romney would certainly hurt his electability argument, and create a mini-panic within the GOP elite. Romney is taking no chances, unleashing a barrage of ads highlighting his hometown ties to Michigan, as well as a series of attacks on Santorum. It looks like he has stanched the bleeding, and may just pull this off. But without question the Republican nominating process has pushed Romney further to the right than his campaign blueprint originally called for. He is fortunate that Santorum has taken a position on the auto bailout similar to his own, and that Santorum does not appear to have the money to strike back hard.
So what happens if Romney loses Michigan? The chatter about the Republican establishment seeking to provoke a late entry is still out there, with a focus on Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, or Chris Christie. But as Paul Ryan said himself on Meet the Press, and Karl Rove on Fox, it is just too late for another entry. Republican insiders recognize the beating they will take with Santorum at the head of the ticket, and are now desperate at that thought. Maybe they better get used to it. The Republican voters just don’t want to give the Republican establishment the “chosen” candidate. If Romney does have that “Detroit Breakdown” expect all hell to break loose in the GOP.