Santorum can still hope for delegates

By Kyle Melinn

Lost somewhere in the hubbub about Rick Santorum’s sudden lead over eventual 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in some national and Michigan polls was a bit Monday on The New York Times’ website headlined “Pro-Romney Group Buys Almost $500,000 in TV Ads In Michigan.”

Now and next week, the super PAC “Restore Our Future” will blanket this state with so much pro-Romney mush, people will be chucking TVs into the streets before Michigan’s Feb. 28 primary.

It’s become the only predictable element of this seemingly unpredictable primary cycle:

“Conservative of the Week” gets uncomfortably close to Mitt Romney in the polls. Romney unchains his super PAC and its bottomless bank account. He fires up his attack machine, using volumes of well-prepared opposition research. Romney re-brands himself.

The commercials. The news coverage. FOX News viewers soak it all in. Conservative support plummets and somebody new becomes the “Conservative of the Week.” Repeat.

It just so happens that Michigan gets Santorum. Had we held our primary at various other stages of this dance, our Conservative of the Week could have been Newt Gingrich or Herman Cain or Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann.

But Michigan gets Santorum, the über social conservative from Pennsylvania whose blurring of the lines between the gay lifestyle and bestiality/pedophilia earned him an urban dictionary definition he’d probably rather not have.

Michigan’s sanction-reduced 30 delegates isn’t the only thing at stake. If Romney lost his home state to someone with virtually no organization or institutional support here, the resulting national embarrassment would stick with Romney until ... ah, probably Super Tuesday (when Santorum isn’t even on the ballot in Tennessee or Virginia).

Romney can’t afford to lose Michigan all the same. It’s one of the few states he won in 2008. He’s been giving money to political causes here for at least six years. His dad was the governor. His brother was a Michigan State University trustee. He and Ann fell in love on Mackinac Island.

The script is just too beautifully nostalgic for Romney to blow this, even if his campaign and super PAC end up helping our economy with a little more purchased media than he originally planned.

Gov. Rick Snyder will do his part with his expected endorsement of the fellow former corporate CEO next week.

(Besides that, the Michigan Republican Party would be horrified if Romney lost Michigan. The party Poobahs see Romney as their only chance to draw GOP voters in November to boost their nominees for U.S. Senate, Congress and the state House. How could Romney beat Obama in Michigan if he couldn’t beat a motley crew of underfunded primary opponents? And, Oh My God, what if a Romney loss in Michigan snowballed into Obama v. Santorum or Obama v. Gingrich? Can you say “LANDSLIDE?!?!”).

No, Romney is gearing up to do in Michigan what he did in Florida — turn a seemingly close election into a double-digit blowout.

Santorum has a reason to stay here, though.

Twenty-one of Michigan’s delegates will be awarded to the highest vote getter in each of Michigan’s 14 congressional districts — so, if a candidate wins a district, he gets the delegates from that district regardless of how he does statewide. The remaining nine delegates will be awarded proportionately to candidates who receive more than 15 percent of the statewide vote. Under the criteria, Gingrich and Paul, each of whom are hanging around that 15 percent number in some polls, have a shot at a delegate or two, as well.

In 2008, Romney “won” Michigan, but eventual nominee John McCain took the 1st Congressional District in the Upper Peninsula/Northern Michigan and the 6th in Kalamazoo/Southwest Michigan. McCain came close in the Holland-based 2nd and finished only 3,000 votes (35 percent to 31 percent) behind Romney in the 7th. Romney won 40 percent to 27 percent over McCain in the 8th.

Conventional wisdom would have Santorum stumping his kindred spirits in socially conservative West Michigan, which is where Romney is slated to be Wednesday. But a recent Public Policy Polling survey shows Santorum just as strong in the Detroit/suburban 586, 810, 313 and 734 area codes as he is in the West Michigan-based 616 and 231 area codes. In fact, Romney finished fourth (10 percent) to Santorum (38 percent), Gingrich (23 percent) and Paul (11 percent) in the Macomb County-based 586 area code.

Romney’s only victory among the areas codes in the survey was the Monroe/Washtenaw County-based 734 area code. Paul (30 percent) nipped both Santorum and Romney (27 percent) in the Lansing-based 517 area code, a surprise seeing he managed 7 percent in the ’08 GOP primary in the 8th Congressional.

Santorum is responding with visits in Oakland County and Detroit this week, but with little money to compete with Romney where it matters — TV — the only question on Feb. 28 won’t be who won, but how many delegates Romney wins.