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Target: Michigan

Questions: Whom will Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder endorse in his state's upcoming primary, and will it matter?  Via Politico:

The first-term GOP governor provided the timetable [for endorsing] following a speech Monday to the Detroit Economic Club. As for who that candidate will be, Snyder responded by saying: "That's still to be determined." Two of the possible recipients of Snyder's endorsement plan to address the Detroit Economic Club in the days leading up to Michigan's Feb. 28 primary. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is to speak at the club's luncheon meeting Thursday. And ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney plans to speak to the Economic Club on Feb. 24. An endorsement from Snyder would be a good sign for Romney, who's hoping to cement his lead in Michigan, or for Santorum, who's considering mounting a strong campaign against Romney there.


Two more questions: (1) With all due respect, what "lead" is Romney "hoping to cement"?  We explored the latest raft of polling data yesterday, all of which points to a Santorum advantage both in Michigan and nationwide.  Another national poll today bears out that trend. (2) Regardless of whom Snyder decides to back, will it have any impact?  "Major" endorsements haven't exactly helped GOP candidates this cycle.  Newt Gingrich won the coveted New Hampshire Union Leader nod, yet couldn't crack the top three in the state's primary.  Mitt Romney won Nikki Haley's blessing in South Carolina, then lost her state by double digits.  Ditto Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota. 

So where does that leave us in Michigan?  My suspicion is that if Snyder comes out for Santorum, that development would create a much bigger splash than if he chooses Romney.  If a sitting governor and former CEO backs Romney, critics will dismiss that alliance as completely natural and unsurprising.  The media will dutifully report the development, then move along with a shrug.  And "true conservatives" will insist that it's the latest evidence that "the establishment" is "protecting" Romney, or whatever.  If Snyder sides with Santorum, however, it will be treated as another sea change in the race.  Storyline: "Mainstream Republicans in Romney's childhood backyard are spurning him for the emerging conservative frontrunner!"  In other words, Team Romney is likely angling hard for Snyder's backing, if only to deny Santorum those headlines.


Byron York reports that Newt's campaign has effectively conceded Michigan -- opting to focus on Arizona -- so the battle for the Great Lakes State will boil down to another Romney/Santorum face-off.  As the campaign heats up, each campaign is up with new positive ads.  Romney's bio-spot features the candidate driving around his old stomping grounds, while Santorum's hyper-upbeat commercial makes the case that he's the only conservative capable of defeating President Obama in November:

Romney also has a worthwhile Op/Ed in today's Detroit News, decrying the rampant "crony capitalism" inherent within Obama's auto bailout (the history of which Obama's been really fudging on the trail, and which ended up losing taxpayers billions).  But will nostalgia and parochial issue positioning be sufficient for Romney to reverse Santorum's Big Mo?  Probably not, and BuzzFeed reports that RomneyWorld is readying a series of criticisms against the former Pennsylvania Senator:

In an interview with BuzzFeed, a Romney advisor offered details of the campaign's coming two-front attack, which the campaign expects will be echoed by the Super PAC, which cannot legally coordinate its message, but which has already bought hundreds of thousands of dollars of airtime in key states. "Santorum’s a blank slate, so everyone’s projecting on to him what they want because he’s the last anti-Romney," said the advisor. "Santorum is going to get introduced to people that don’t know him."

The Pennsylvania Republican will "be defined by two things," the advisor said. The first is a comparison to Barack Obama: "He's never run anything," said the advisor. The Pennyslvanian's experience is limited to roles as a legislator and legislative staffer. "The biggest thing he ever ran is his Senate office," he said. The second is a challenge to Santorum's Washington experience. "They’re going to hit him very hard on earmarks, lobbying, voting to raise the federal debt limit five times," said the advisor. "The story of Santorum is going to be told over the next few weeks in a big way."


I think this unnamed advisor is correct that many GOP voters haven't heard certain things about Rick Santorum, and that it's fair game for the Romney campaign to subject Santorum to the searing scrutiny of a top contender.  He hasn't really faced much of that yet, and it's time.  But as I've written repeatedly, I'm not sure how badly Romney can damage Santorum on issues akin to the debt ceiling votes.  Does anyone believe that hypothetical Massachusetts Senator Mitt Romney would have taken an unpopular and principled stand against raising the debt ceiling during the Clinton or Bush years?  Anyone?  It's conceivable that the lobbying stuff might make a dent or two, but as ABC's Amy Walter wrote yesterday, relentless straw-grasping attacks on another rival could weigh down Romney's favorablility numbers even further, especially among independents.  I continue to believe that Romney's strongest path forward is to build a positive, results-focused campaign while pleasantly pointing out that Rick Santorum is a great American who happens to have exactly as much executive experience as candidate Barack Obama did in 2008.  Let surrogates make electability arguments and call attention to a few of Santorum's warts.  For Romney to really go after Santorum from the Right -- where  he lacks credibility -- could backfire. 


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