- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2008

Yesterday morning, the day after he won the Republican primary of his native state of Michigan, where his father was elected governor three times, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said the victory “gave me the kind of boost I needed.”

As political understatements go, that’s a big one. Consider: First, Mr. Romney lost by 9 points (34-25) in Iowa to Mike Huckabee (whom Mr. Romney had outspent by more than 6-to-1). Then, John McCain rallied from an 18-point (35-17) deficit in early December (Zogby) to defeat Mr. Romney by 5 points (37-32) in Massachusetts’s neighboring state of New Hampshire. Thus, a Romney loss in Michigan on Tuesday would have put his campaign in a deep hole.

Had Mr. Romney suffered his third consecutive loss (Wyoming doesn’t count) in Michigan, he would have faced almost certain defeat on Saturday in South Carolina, the first primary in the South. Last week, Mr. Romney pulled his ads in South Carolina, where they had been airing for months, and saturated the Michigan airwaves with undeliverable promises to reclaim tens of thousands of auto jobs, which any sober industry analyst would have told him are gone forever. He also pulled his ads from Florida, whose Jan. 29 primary would have proved unwinnable following a defeat in South Carolina in the wake of a Romney loss in Michigan.

But his ads are back on the air in South Carolina. No doubt he will soon saturate Florida’s airwaves the way he bombarded Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan. Too bad Mr. Romney continues to refuse to tell voters how much of his personal wealth he spent during the fourth quarter even as he ratchets up his personal spending throughout the critical month of January.

Each of the three top candidates (McCain, 30.0 percent; Huckabee, 20.1 percent; and Romney, 13.6 percent) in the RealClearPolitics average of six national polls conducted between Jan. 9 and Jan 12 (i.e., pre-Michigan) now has a major victory under his belt. Others have not been so fortunate. After futilely spending several million dollars on ads in New Hampshire, Rudy Giuliani has now based his entire campaign strategy on winning Florida’s Jan. 29 primary. He finished in single digits (3 percent) for the third time in a row in Michigan, and he will likely do so again in South Carolina. “Whoever thought up this strategy is the kind of guy who plays Russian roulette with four bullets in the chamber,” Pat Buchanan recently observed. After edging out Mr. McCain for third place in Iowa, Fred Thompson, who desperately needs a big day in South Carolina and will likely be disappointed, received 1 percent of the vote in New Hampshire and 4 percent in Michigan.

The Republican race is clearly in a state of flux. After winning Iowa, Mr. Huckabee finished third in both New Hampshire (11 percent of the vote) and Michigan (16 percent). He expects to do well in South Carolina, which has a large evangelical population. (Interestingly, among the 39 percent of Michigan voters who identified themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians in the exit poll, Mr. Romney, a Mormon, beat Mr. Huckabee by a 34-29 margin.) Capturing 13 percent of the vote, Mr. McCain performed “better than expected” in Iowa, where two months earlier he bravely reiterated his opposition to ethanol and other farming subsidies. Five days later, on Jan. 8, he achieved his New Hampshire victory. Mr. Romney’s nine-point Michigan win over Mr. McCain (39-30) has reignited his campaign.

Mr. McCain told Michigan voters what they know in their hearts to be true. Those auto jobs are gone. But they chose to believe, at least for a day, Mr. Romney’s dubious optimism, which, if he is elected in November, will surely become one of the first campaign promises he will have to break.

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