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Why the Michigan primary means momentum for Mitt Romney

at 06:30 AM ET, 02/28/2012

Conventional wisdom heading into today’s Michigan presidential primary is that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will win the Wolverine State. After all, his father was the governor of the state, he was born there, and Romney and his aligned super PAC have drastically outspent former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum in Michigan.


U.S. Republican candidate Mitt Romney addresses his supporters during a campaign stop in Royal Oak, Michigan February 27, 2012. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
If Romney wins Michigan then — and that remains a major “if,” if (ha ha!) you believe polling — all he will have done is win a state he was supposed to win. And we all know that winning primaries you are supposed to win doesn’t build any sort of momentum behind your candidacy. Right?

Wrong.

Context matters here — and tells the story.

Romney is a heavy favorite in Arizona, which will also hold its presidential primary today. Wins in Arizona and Michigan will effectively send a message that after being knocked down earlier this month — when Santorum swept a series of votes in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado — Romney found a way to pick himself off the mat against the latest challenger seeking to paint him as insufficiently conservative.

“If Romney wins both, he may have extinguished his last conservative challenger,” said Curt Anderson, who worked for Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign earlier this cycle. “Each time a conservative challenger takes center stage, two things happen. First, the challenger self-immolates: Perry, Cain, Newt, Santorum. Second, Romney pours gas on him, just in case.”

Victories in Michigan and Arizona would also come exactly one week before Super Tuesday, when 10 states hold either primaries or caucuses — by far the biggest delegate day of the race so far. With no debate scheduled before March 6 — a planned gathering March 1 was canceled when Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul pulled out — there’s little to stop the narrative that Romney has righted the ship and is, once again, the clear favorite. That means momentum.

Need evidence? Go back and look at the press coverage heading into Feb. 7 votes in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado. It was focused almost exclusively on the fact that a relative pittance of delegates were up for grabs, making the contests something short of meaningful.

Now go and look at the coverage the day after those votes; it trumpeted Santorum’s sweep and cast Romney as an embattled frontrunner who simply couldn’t win over conservatives.

The lesson is that in politics (and sports), winning changes everything. There is nothing like putting “W’s” up on the board to show doubters that you are the guy (or gal). Remember, in the immortal words of Bill Parcells, “you are what your record says you are.” And, if Romney sweeps Michigan and Arizona, he will have won six of the 11 contests held to date. (That’s more than half for the non-math majors among us.)

All of that is not to say that Romney doesn’t (still) face serious challenges in his fight for the Republican nomination. He does, and those problems may begin and/or end in Ohio, a swing state in the general election set to vote on March 6.

“A double win would be great for him, though I think there will still be a lot of pressure to win Ohio and beyond,” said Mike Murphy, a senior GOP strategist who is neutral in this race.

Worries about “Ohio and beyond” are for another day if you are a member of Romney’s inner circle. And. victories today in Michigan and Arizona could well strengthen Romney’s hand heading into Super Tuesday.

Adelson plugs more money into Gingrich super PAC: Sheldon Adelson is swooping in to try and save Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign yet again.

The Post’s Amy Gardner reported late Monday that Adelson has plugged more money — a “substantial” sum, according to a source — into a super PAC supporting Gingrich. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, previously funded the group with $10 million of their personal fortune.

The pro-Gingrich super PAC, called Winning Our Future, will use the money to go up with ads in seven states — four holding contests on Super Tuesday next week and three holding them the week after.

It appears to be a last-ditch effort to resurrect Gingrich’s campaign. Without some traction over the next couple weeks, though, it’s hard to see how a continued investment would pay off.

Fixbits:

Gingrich attacks Santorum as a “big labor Republican.”

Santorum says gas prices caused the 2008 economic collapse.

Freshman Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) trails by 15 points in a new poll conducted for WPRI-TV. Despite the heavy Democratic lean of his district, Cicilline has faced personal problems that appear to have put him in serious danger.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) plays nice with Obama as he faces a recall campaign.

Must-reads:

Romney throws his economic plan overboard” — David Frum, CNN

2012 or Never” — Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine

Michigan ‘Prayer Station’ volunteers are political doubting Thomases” — David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

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