Can Mitt Romney’s opposition to the auto-bailout be used effectively against him in states other than Michigan — ones that could be decisive in November?
Here’s a test case: A major union is wading into the GOP primary in Ohio — where voting is set to take place on March 6th — a state that has a significant auto industry presence and is expected to host a far tougher general election battle than in Michigan, where Obama holds a big lead over Romney in polls.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is going up with this tough new ad in Ohio that uses Romney’s rejection of the auto-bailout to make a broader case against Romney’s priorities and approach to capitalism:
“Romney would have turned his back on us — in the depths of the recession,” the ad says. “But he supported giving the banks billions in bailouts? That’s Mitt’s world. Why would we want to live in it?”
It’s unclear whether this message will have resonance among GOP primary voters. But the ad represents a bet that the GOP primary has forced Romney so far to the right on the auto-bailout — requiring him to go through comical contortions to pretend it wasn’t a big success — that it’s worth branding him hard with it now, among swing voters in states other than Michigan.
And it’s another glimpse of how the pro-Obama forces will use Romney’s opposition to the bailout to paint him as a heartless capitalist — and point to his profound wrongness about it as Exhibit A in Campaign 2012’s larger ideological argument over government’s role in interfering with the free market to protect and create American jobs.
* GOP governor says auto-bailout was “successful”: It certainly won’t hurt the above case that Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, acknowledges the bailout was “successful” and gently tells fellow Republicans to move on from this one already.
* Dueling horse race polls: Politico’s battleground poll this morning finds Obama’s approval rating up to 53 percent, with him besting Mitt Romney by 10 points, 53-43 — perhaps a sign of the toll the primary is taking on Romney. On the other hand, USA Today/Gallup finds Romney edging Obama in the dozen top swing states, 48-46.
The political scientists tell us that head-to-head polling this far out is meaningless, and that the two metrics to keep an eye on are Obama’s approval numbers and public perceptions of the direction of the economy.
* Obama mustn’t get complacent: E.J. Dionne cautions that there are plenty of reasons Obama shouldn’t let Romney’s slide go to his head: Romney can still revamp; Obama’s approval numbers are not where they need to be; the economy can still dip; and the GOP Super PACs will spend gazillions.
Whatever damage Romney has sustained among swing voters, he will likely have a chance to reintroduce himself to them on his own terms.
* Down to the wire in Michigan: The final polling is in: The robo-polling firm Public Policy Polling finds Romney with a small edge over Santorum, 39-37. But: a new Mitchell Research/Rosetta Stone poll shows Santorum back on top, 37-35.
Pollster’s average of Michigan polling finds Romney up by five, and most predictions have him winning. Key PPP finding: “Two weeks ago Santorum’s net favorability in Michigan was 34 points better than Romney’s. Now Romney’s is 5 points better than Santorum’s.”
If nothing else, the Michigan results may again confirm that the Romney camp is very good at tearing down surging opponents with hugely expensive barrages of negative ads.
* The battle will rage on beyond Michigan: A new Quinnipiac poll finds Rick Santorum holds a healthy seven point lead over Romney in Ohio, 36-29, with only a week left until the voting on Super Tuesday, suggesting that even if Romney wins Michigan and Arizona tomorrow, the GOP nomination battle will continue.
* Republican leaders worried about drawn out contest: Relatedly, GOP leaders are increasingly anxious that the nomination battle is imperiling their chances to beat Obama. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, tellingly, says the contest won’t be decided by the time his state votes on May 8th.
Key nugget: Daniels says the primary is feeding fears that “our side might not offer a bold enough and specific enough and constructive enough — and I would say inclusive enough — alternative.”
* GOP candidates’ unfavorable ratings historically high: Another reason for rising anxiety in GOP circles: Unlike in the last two elections, the challengers have higher unfavorabile ratings than favorable ones, still another possible sign of the toll the primary is taking.
* Dems press case on auto bailout: The DNC is out with a harsh new Web video featuring Detroit residents hammering Romney over his “let Detroit go bankrupt” prescription. While Romney didn’t write that headline, the video focuses on his prediction that the bailout would lead to the industry’s “demise.”
One resident says: “If he were president at the time, we’d be in a depression.” That sentiment, which is shared by George W. Bush, will be key to efforts to make Romney’s bailout stance stick beyond Michigan, as in the above ad.
* Deep opposition to health reform in swing states: The aforementioned USA Today/Gallup poll finds that a majority of voters in the dozen top swing states say passage of health reform was a “bad thing” and support its repeal by a GOP president.
One key question: If Republicans nominate Romney, the creator of the model for national reform, will they effectively deprive themselves of what could be a major winning issue in November?
* And Romney’s silver foot again lands in his mouth: His latest — “I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners” — is yet another sign that Romney really needs to learn to talk about his wealth.