Early last week, Mitt Romney appeared to be pulling away from Rick Santorum in Michigan. However, the Obama Super PAC, the Obama campaign, and MoveOn all engaged with an anti-Romney ad barrage, and it appears to be turning the tide:
Romney has certainly taken a hit in the composite of all polls conducted for this race, while Santorum has recovered in response. In other words, the million-dollar anti-Romney effort (with much of that money coming from Democrats and progressives) has dragged Romney back down to where Santorum can catch him.
Like I wrote last week, this is a multi-pronged effort to deliver Santorum the victory in Michigan—the first is the big-money campaign to drive Romney's numbers down among independents (who can obviously vote in this primary), and the second is our modest (and yes, controversial) effort to get Democrats to cast very legal and proper votes for Rick Santorum. The Michigan Democratic Party has also engaged, urging Democrats in the state to cast votes in the primary, and reminding them that casting such votes in no way prohibits them from voting in Democratic contests later in the year.
This race is obviously so close that a few thousand votes could make the entire difference.
Either Romney wins, and takes a big step toward sewing up the nomination sooner rather than later, or Santorum wins, and the GOP nomination contest remains in chaos, and indefinitely so. It's clear that Democrats and the Obama campaign prefer the latter option, otherwise they wouldn't be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars hitting Romney in advance of tomorrow's primary. Indefinite chaos has been good to them.
A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll reveals the prolonged nominating battle is taking a toll on the GOP candidates and finds the president’s standing significantly improved from late last year.
“I don’t think it’s set in stone, but Romney is on the verge of getting to be disqualified — particularly among women and independent voters — in a way that poses a very, very serious challenge for the Republican Party,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “And he’s not done yet: He’s got a continuing struggle for the rest of the electorate to watch.”
The quicker Romney can transition to "general election" mode, the quicker he can move to the center and start repairing the damage. And as long as Santorum drives the debate, he helps galvanize base Democratic constituencies:
While Democrats lost women voters in the 2010 midterm election, Obama now carries them by 12 percentage points against a generic Republican. Among white women, Obama leads Romney 51 percent to 45 percent. It’s a strong base to build from, according to Lake.
“Both a combination of the president’s positives and the Republicans’ negatives have brought women back in very strong form,” said Lake.
There is no downside to dragging this contest out a month or two longer.