Michigan and Beyond

Unemployment - by far the worst in the country - trumped concerns about national security in Michigan, securing a win for native son Mitt Romney by a surprisingly wide margin. His chief Republican rival, John McCain, hoped workers who helped him beat W there in 2000 would once again appreciate "straight talk." But McCain told them, bluntly, that it's not possible to recover all the auto and manufacturing jobs Michigan has lost to the Far East. Romney called that Washington pessimism and promised massive federal aid. Critics say this is not a traditional conservative message; it's more Lee Iacocca seeking a bailout for Chrysler than Romney's own father, George, turning around American Motors (for a time) by deciding to make compact cars. But in a year when Republicans from  Newt Gingrich to David Frum to Mike Huckabee talk of moving from Reaganism to something more  like big government compassionate conservatism, the message of Romney from Massachusetts resonated, at least in hard-hit Michigan.

McCain expects his national security credentials to play better in South Carolina, but Romney could finish better than expected there, too.  In Michigan Romney did very well among Republicans who supported President Bush (as opposed to independents and cross-over Democrats who went for McCain).  More surprisingly, Romney split the Evangelical vote with Huckabee. Fred Thompson will also be making a first and perhaps last stand in South Carolina.

All this would seem to be good news for Rudy Giuliani. A splintered field, depriving anyone of Big Mo, could support his strategy of hiding out in the Florida Everglades.

Punished by the party because it moved up the date of its primary, Michigan did not count for the Democrats. The only major candidate on their ballot was Hillary Clinton. Yet 40% of Democratic voters (not counting those who voted for a Republican) went for "uncommitted."  Both Barack Obama and John Edwards urged their supporters to file this protest, and it appears African-Americans did so in large numbers. That may not bode well for Clinton in Nevada and South Carolina. Still, some commentators predict - despite the new racial "truce" - she will continue to make Obama's race an issue (with more references by herself or high-level supporters to his admitted past drug use, his Muslim middle name, Dr. King's dreams versus President Johnson's political clout, etc.) while assuming that disaffected African Americans will return to her in the general election. If true, it's a risky and some would say irresponsible strategy.

Email Jack Atherton to comment on today's commentary.