Politics & Policy

Critical State

Michigan's primary role.

We used to diminish Michigan and stampede from New Hampshire to South Carolina. I think Michigan is the critical state for the next winnowing down. If McCain wins in New Hampshire today, he has to win Michigan. If he doesn’t, that’s it. If Mitt Romney can’t claim a Granite win today, he has to win Michigan. If he doesn’t, he’ll be 0-3 in states he should have won.

Second, if Huckabee somehow wins in Michigan (and polling is not great in Michigan right now, so any of this is possible), the former governor of Arkansas goes to South Carolina very strong and proves he’s not a one-hit wonder. If he loses big in New Hampshire and Michigan (fourth place, low third) he may prove a one-hit wonder–though it’s too early to tell.

Third, here’s what interesting about Hillary Clinton and Obama: In the Clinton campaign in 1992, it was all about a place called Hope, don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Obama has stolen that from the Clintons, and her campaign is now about what she’s accomplished — she’s the George H. W. Bush of 1992, if you will — running on resume and experience.

He’s poetry, she’s prose. Obama said things like: “We are one nation; we are one people; and our time for change has come.” Clinton said things like: “I founded in the Senate the Bipartisan Manufacturing Caucus,” according to Roger Simon.

On the GOP side, it’s a lot different. Romney is touting managerial and executive experience and doing well. McCain is touting his national-security experience and doing well. There’s a dollop of the “change” message in Mitt particularly after Obama’s strong showing in Iowa on that theme — the outsider idea, but it’s not resonating as strongly with the GOP as it is with the Dems for Obama. No surprise really: We’re less about change — hence the word “conservative.” There’s a bit more poetry in McCain’s campaign than Romney’s but again, conservatives warm to that less than Democrats — though it is a good rule that you want poetry in the campaign and prose in office, as Simon also reminds us.

Fourth, and a cautionary note to Mitt which FDT brought out in the Sunday debate: He can’t make experience important about everything except national security, not as a Republican. Good point by FDT, I thought — although the point has not accrued to FDT.

Fifth, advice for McCain: Drop Lindsey Graham on the hustings. Nobody cares about him: He angers conservatives. Go everywhere you can with your three other, more important, endorsers: Joe Lieberman, Phil Gramm, and Jack Kemp. Take them. Everywhere. They bolster where he is weak.

McCain has not made the sale with conservatives yet. He could, but he hasn’t. If he wins New Hampshire and Michigan, he is not inevitable in the way that Dole was in 1996, almost by inadvertence. Dole didn’t have the questions about conservative temperament that McCain has. So the fight goes on.

Sixth, a note about my sense of the polls: They really are much more dependent now on the previous states’ outcome. So, it’s hard to gauge Michigan until there’s a New Hampshire result. Harder to gauge S.C. until there’s a combined New Hampshire and Michigan result. And that’s the risk Rudy is playing — and paying for, too: Lots of results in the media and the public minds before Florida. And none of them his.

Seth Leibsohn is a fellow at the Claremont Institute.

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