Romney Wins AZ & MI: The Two-Man Race

Quick thoughts.  Ten-minute post, before I get back to my work backlog for tonight.  Mostly I’m posting this to show off our new Facebook comments system.

Romney won.  Good for him.  He proved himself electable in the Midwest, and electable not simply as a last-resort vote.  Every time a passionate Romney guy (or gal) stands up online, they always get two or three comments (only one of which is snide) saying, “Wait, an honest-to-god pro-Romney voter?  I didn’t know those existed!”  Romney nearly won Iowa because voters thought he was the best of a bad lot.  He crushed Gingrich in Florida because Gingrich scared the daylights out of Floridian Republicans.  He won Michigan tonight because voters actually liked him.

Which brings me to my other point: tonight’s results cement the fact that this is now a two-man race.  (This is a bummer, because my man is not one of them.  Ron Paul could be resurrected by a remarkably strong showing in state conventions, and, indeed, that’s been his plan for months, but it would be a resurrection at this point.)  It’s never been a two-man race.  Often, it has been a zero-man race, wherein nobody liked Romney but also couldn’t find an alternative to vote for.  Every alternative who has arisen has been smacked back down into oblivion within two weeks of leaping to the front of the pack, because it turned out voters despised each of them even more than they disliked Romney.

That changed with Santorum’s February surge (his second surge of the campaign).  His favorability went way up… and stayed there all month.  Remarkably, Santorum’s surge coincided with Romney <i>recovering</i> some of the favorability points he had lost over the preceding few weeks.  Tonight, after a tough round of campaigning, the candidates left Michigan a very different place than they left Florida four weeks ago: both candidates have relatively high favorable ratings, neither candidate was routed, and both candidates have the funding to keep the race going.

So, for the moment, it’s a two-man race.  For the first time, there are two candidates in the spotlight whom the GOP generally likes and is generally willing to back.  This may only last a week — Super Tuesday is in seven days, after all, and Super Tuesday is usually decisive.  If Romney has a commanding win, he can close this contest down next week.  If Santorum wins, say, 30% of the vote, we’re in for six more weeks of winter.

Incidentals: it is telling that Santorum beat Romney among both independents and Democrats.  If we’re nominating Romney to be electable, you would think <i>someone</i> would be paying attention to his <i>actual electability</i>.  But we could have said the same thing about Ron Paul four months ago, and nobody cared then, either.

Personally, I find the accusations of a Paul-Romney “collusion” entirely credible.  I doubt they have a secret alliance or anything, but all Paul’s favorable outcomes — whether the presidential nomination or a powerful seat at the convention — go through Santorum.  He has powerful incentives to attack Santorum harshly, even if that strengthens Romney.  Moreover, Santorum and Paul appear to have a deep personal dislike for one another, which can’t help.  But that’s just random thoughts without much data.

Enjoy the Facebook comments!

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