Michigan Key to Romney's '08 Primary Strategy
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) spent Super Bowl weekend in his home state of Michigan, as he continues to lay the groundwork in the state for a possible 2008 presidential run.
Romney spoke at the Oakland County Lincoln Day Dinner last Friday and was introduced by Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R). Romney's address centered on three main topics -- terrorism, education and economic competitiveness. He also made a pitch for Amway founder Dick DeVos (R), who is challenging Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) in November.
Before his speech, Romney raised $50,000 for the Oakland County Republican Party, according to a knowledgeable Romney source. He will be back in the state in April for a fundraiser expected to bring in more than $750,000 for state House Republicans; he did a similar event in March 2005 that raised $750,000 for state Senate GOPers.
As is clear from that schedule, Romney sees Michigan, which is expected to be among a handful of early primary states come 2008, as one of his best chances to make his mark on the presidential field. And for good reason. Romney's father -- George -- served as governor of the state during the 1960s and even made a brief run for president in 1968. Mitt Romney grew up in Oakland County -- as did his wife -- and still retains strong ties to the state, which he is sure to work to solidify in the coming months.
Romney's major roadblock to a Michigan victory is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who carried Michigan during his ultimately unsuccessful 2000 challenge to President George W. Bush (despite, or perhaps because of, Bush's endorsement by then-Gov. John Engler).
McCain is already lining up an impressive team for 2008 that includes Republican National Committeeman Chuck Yob and Ron Weiser, who was the Bush campaign's Michigan finance chairman during the 2000 race.
McCain's appeal among independents and Democrats also complicates Romney's strategy. Michigan conducts an open primary, meaning that voters of any partisan stripe can vote in the GOP presidential primary. In 2000, McCain lost Republicans to Bush but won solidly among independents and overwhelmingly among Democrats. If anything, McCain has grown stronger among Republicans since his 2000 defeat and has lost little of his cross-party appeal.
A Strategic Vision survey of likely Michigan voters conducted at the end of last month bears out McCain's frontrunner status. He led the field with 37 percent followed by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani with 25 percent. Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) each took 10 percent.
Romney will need to brave Iowa's caucuses and primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina before he gets to Michigan. But if he makes it to the Great Lake State primary, expect Romney to put up a strong fight.
UPDATE, 4:15 p.m. ET: There is a movement afoot within the Michigan Republican Party to essentially close its primary to all but GOP candidates. A measure that would set the Democratic and Republican primaries on the same day was recently approved by the GOP central committee in the state, although Democrats must sign off on the plan as well for it to take effect. Thanks to a reader for noting the possible primary changes.
UPDATE: 4:58 p.m. ET: Yet another update on the status of the Michigan 2008 primary: The state GOP voted within the last two weeks to keep the primary open, although it may well fall on the same date as the Democratic primary, according to an informed McCain source. Since voters in the state don't register by party identification, McCain should still enjoy the benefits of significant crossover voting.
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