Advancing a Free Society

Primaries Like a Rolling Stone

Friday, March 2, 2012

Mick Jagger stopped by the White House last month to hang out with President Obama and B.B. King. But the Rolling Stones’ front man was also a part of the Republican presidential primaries.

Singing this song.

Or so it seemed in Michigan, not so much a case of Mitt Romney getting what he wanted, which was a sweeping win in in a Reagan Democrat, Tea Party-heavy, battleground state.

But Romney did get what he needed: a win, plain and simple (ironically, 44 years to the day his father dropped out of the 1968 presidential race).

Not that it was a landslide. The Republican frontrunner received only 41% of the Michigan vote – roughly 2% better than his win there in January 2008, but a much smaller margin of victory (3% in 2012 vs. 9% in 2008). Take away Romney’s 32,000-vote margin of victory in Oakland County, his childhood home, and it’s Rick Santorum just about winning the Michigan primary (he lost the statewide vote by 32,400 votes).

And what would that have meant to Romney’s candidacy?

Another Rolling Stones tune: “Shattered”.

Instead, it’s on to the next round of votes – Saturday’s Washington caucuses, the 10-state “Super Tuesday” on March 6 – and a new phase in the Republican contest: expectations and delegation calculations.

As for the former, it’s an annoying standard – a matter of where the media liberally (redundant, I know) set the bar.

In Michigan, for example, the bar was set at a Romney victory, no margin attached. As long as Romney emerged with more votes – didn’t matter how many – he was the night’s winner.

And where does the bar now rest? Ohio, the biggest of the Super Tuesday prizes (even if Georgia does have more delegates at stake).

Like Michigan, it’s a big part of the November equation (Ohio’s gone with the winning candidate each and every time since siding with Richard Nixon in 1960).

Like Michigan, there’s something of a home-field factor at play (coming from Western Pennsylvania, Santorum has a natural “in” with Ohio’s manufacturing sector).

Unlike Michigan, it’s a state where Republicans get a chance to vote not once but twice. Yes, you read that right.

But, like Michigan, if Romney doesn’t win Ohio, party insiders will again start reaching for the Tums – and maybe the panic button.

Meanwhile, there’s a less subjective exercise: counting delegates.

And in this regard, the race has only begun.

After Tuesday’s votes in Arizona and Michigan, Romney led the field with the 149 delegates, followed by Santorum (86), Newt Gingrich (29) and Ron Paul (18).

While Romney, earned the psychological boost in his native state, the reality is he and Santorum left Michigan with 15 delegates apiece (a number now in flux), since the state allows delegates per results by congressional district.

Now, a little primary math:

  1. Romney is 13% of the way to 1,144 delegates and the nomination;
  2. All 10 Super Tuesday states are proportional, not winner-take-all. Translation: all four contenders will walk away with a share of the day’s 437 delegates.
  3. Assuming the race narrows to two candidates (in terms of significant votes/delegate-amassing, meaning it’s Romney and just one other guy) after next week, the frontrunner can earn the nomination by late May – by pulling down a steady 49% of the vote.

Meanwhile, there’s the matter of the good Republicans Washington State going to the polls on Saturday.

It’s a microcosm of what’s made the GOP so entertaining – and vexing: Romney’s earned this backhanded compliment from The Seattle Times; Santorum’s banking on yet another state’s caucuses to prove a needed boost (worked in Iowa, worked on Feb. 7); Paul has issues with transparency; Gingrich is playing elsewhere – as is most things with the former Speaker, it’s complicated . . . hoping to win next Tuesday in Georgia -- a state that’s not his birthplace, that he once represented, where he no longer lives.

If you can follow that – and do the delegate math – maybe you can figure how all of this ends.

(photo credit: Paulo Etxeberria)