Republican officials found themselves playing defense this weekend at their state convention in Grand Rapids.
Only days prior, Karl Rove announced that his SuperPAC, American Crossroads, which had contributed about half of the $11 million TV assault against Democratic President Barack Obama since the primary, was not airing commercials this week in Michigan, citing the expense of Michigan TV time.
And on Saturday, Republican Mitt Romney´s campaign announced the launch of 15 new ads in eight swing states. Michigan wasn’t one of them.
The media smelled blood.
They swarmed Gov. Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette, Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak — basically anybody of any authority within the party with the inevitable question: Is Romney pulling out of Michigan?
The standard answer, of course, was “no.”
“This a non-story,” Schostak said.
“I wouldn’t over-read into any of this,” Snyder said. “I think Michigan is a very competitive state.”
Michigan’s own Katie Packard Gage, Romney’s deputy campaign manager, reiterated comments to the effect that Romney wasn’t pulling out of his birth state, a la John McCain in 2008.
What else could they say? They don’t know with 100 percent certainty if the money is coming back, even if they hope 100 percent it does.
What we do know is Romney is spending his money in Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire.
We also know the anti-Obama SuperPACs unloaded $11 million in TV ads in Michigan. Pro-Obama or anti-Romney SuperPACs spent $0 here. Nonetheless, the Real Clear Politics average of several recent polls has Obama up four points here.
Nate Silver, The New York Times’ renowned statistician, puts Obama’s chance of victory in Michigan at 95 percent.
Other pollsters slammed the only polls showing Romney up in Michigan — the Baydoun/Foster survey of Aug. 16 and the Mitchell Research poll of Aug. 23 — for under-assuming Detroit or African American turnout.
So, to break this down, Barack Obama hasn’t spent any money here, hasn´t shown up in Michigan to campaign since mid-April in Dearborn and is still up in Michigan about four percentage points.
What’s going to happen when the president actually does start campaigning in the Mitten State?
The ’08 euphoria surrounding Obama has faded, but the president’s crowning first-term achievement was saving the Michigan-based auto industry from corporate scavengers.
“Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” The New York Times headline to Romney’s infamous 2008 op-ed on the auto industry, might as well be tattooed on the Republican nominee’s head. Every time the guy steps foot in this state, Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer or some other Obama surrogate hits Romney over the head with the headline.
Romney’s response about his managed bankruptcy plan seems to get lost in the breeze because the government bailout worked. Say what you will, GM and Chrysler are coming back.
This presents a real problem for Michigan Republicans because a loss of Romney enthusiasm in 2012 could be catastrophic.
Proposal 2, the collective bargaining constitutional guarantee that would throw in limbo every government reform Snyder and the Republicans have managed in the last 20 months, passes with a low GOP turnout.
Proposal 4, which would overturn the recent ban on bargaining rights for those independent home health care workers who collect Medicaid money, probably passes.
The Republican-nominated majority in the Supreme Court could be toppled.
Up to three Republican congressional seats could flip.
Republicans picked up 20 state House seats in 2010. If they lose half of those in November, they lose the majority.
Romney may lose Michigan, but the state GOP cannot afford for him to lose big. If Obama’s margin of victory starts hitting double-digits, the coattail effect kicks in and Republicans are in big trouble.
At this weekend’s GOP convention, a lot of emphasis was put on the upcoming “Super Saturday.”
On Saturday, volunteers from Indiana and Illinois are expected to assist Michigan’s Romney supporters in making phone calls, door knocking and talking to neighbors about “the importance of this election and its impact on our nation.”
It’s dubbed a massive grassroots effort to energize Republicans in the seven weeks leading up to the General Election.
Maybe this is successful. Maybe this helps push Romney over the edge in polling that shows him plateauing despite how much money is thrown into softening Obama.
But the Romney campaign’s path to victory only includes Michigan as one of a number of states it’d like to win to get to 270 electoral votes. It’s not a state Romney needs to have. It’s not like Florida or Virginia or Ohio.
Personal hometown pride will likely stop Romney from abandoning Michigan, but keeping the enthusiasm level high in a state where victory isn’t probable could be a chore.
(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)