How Romney Won Michigan

By: Wall Street Journal

Focus on fixing economy puts him ahead of McCain

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was projected to win the Republican primary in Michigan on Tuesday, giving his campaign its first major primary win and a new lease on life.

Michigan was seen as a must-win for Mr. Romney, whose father was governor of the state, after he suffered losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. With former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee not expected to make a strong showing, Mr. Romney’s chief rival in Michigan was Arizona Sen. John McCain. Both candidates scrambled to adjust their messages for residents, who are suffering an economic downtown more severe than nearly anywhere else in the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal’s Alex Frangos and Elizabeth Holmes filed these reports from the campaign trail examining how the candidates’ strategies led to Tuesday night’s outcome.

Mitt Romney

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — The CEO-turned-governor, who was born in this state, carried Michigan by convincing voters he could save their sagging economy.

Mr. Romney highlighted his business background and presented an empathetic plan to help Michigan, which has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. In suited-up appearances throughout the Lower Peninsula, Mr. Romney looked every bit the part of a business executive. He placed great importance on Michigan, calling the state the “canary in the mineshaft,” and vowing not to rest until he ended their “one-state recession.”

“We need help,” said Dave Schichtel, a 68-year-old window salesman from Traverse City who cast an absentee ballot for Mr. Romney on Saturday. “He’s the only one I can see that’s going to really help.”

The beleaguered auto industry was a focal point of Mr. Romney’s remarks. During a speech at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, he vowed to put together a coalition to help Michigan within the first 100 days of his presidency. Along with blaming Washington for the problems the industry faces, Mr. Romney laid out his proposed solutions, which include giving Detroit more flexibility on fuel-economy standards.

It didn’t hurt that Mr. Romney spent the four days leading up to Tuesday’s contest professing his undying affection for all things Michigan. Along with praising the sights — “The trees are all just about the right height” and “almost all the cars in the parking lot are American” — he made sure to emphasize his Midwestern upbringing. “My roots are deep here,” he told a crowd in Macomb on Friday. Along with being born in Michigan, he said, “my brother is on the board of Michigan State [University]” and “my mom and dad are buried here … I care very deeply about the state of Michigan.”

A Romney victory was expected — the schedule for the traveling press listed Tuesday evening’s event as “Romney Victory Party” — in large part because of Mr. Romney’s father. George Romney was governor from 1963 to 1968 and, while much more progressive than his son, still has a fan club throughout Michigan.

Mr. Romney’s second-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire didn’t seem to affect his Michigan showing. Guy Wood, an independent from Traverse City who voted for Mr. Romney, brushed them off as “rural states” and said Michigan had larger issues.

The losses in earlier states didn’t matter “at all,” said Diane Kutter of Grand Rapids. “He won Wyoming,” she added, referring to the little-watched caucus from Jan. 5.

In Michigan, Mr. Romney drew large crowds — at least when compared with his showings in New Hampshire. Several hundred people were at the Lawrence Technological College in Southfield last Sunday afternoon. The crowd, as rowdy as Mr. Romney has seen in months on the stump, clapped together red Thunder Stix (the kind found at sporting events) that said “Mitt Romney for President.”

Among Mr. Romney’s fans was Peggy Velez of Troy, Mich., who went to church with Mr. Romney in Boston. “We’ve known him for a really long time. We really know his background and his values and we just really appreciate that,” Mrs. Velez said, adding that she recognized a lot of people at the rally from her local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregation.

Mr. Romney spent as much time and money as anyone in Michigan and is well-positioned financially going forward. After conceding New Hampshire to Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney held an all-day fund-raiser in Boston. The millionaire investor’s network of business associates, complete with their Rolodexes, helped secure another $5 million for the candidate — $1.5 million for his primary race and another $3.5 million for the general election (the latter portion is refundable should Mr. Romney not receive the nomination).

– Elizabeth Holmes

John McCain

YPSILANTI, Mich. — Mr. McCain’s appeal on national security and the Iraq war played well in this state, but he fell short as his economic ideas didn’t attract voters desperate for help with jobs and the housing market.

Despite the momentum from his comeback win in New Hampshire, enough voters didn’t come around to his plan to restore the state’s ailing economy, which relied heavily on long-term strategies such as education, job retraining and investment in new technologies. Voters craved a quicker economic fix.

Mr. McCain’s economic advisers felt his existing proposals to lower taxes were enough to convince voters. But they weren’t convinced. “It’s still a long term plan. It doesn’t do anything in the middle of the Michigan recession,” said Mark Pisco, a Milford, Mich., Republican, last week at a McCain event in Pontiac.

Fred Davis, 65, a Certified Public Accountant from Ypsilanti, Mich., went to an election-day event in his hometown to support the Arizona senator. But he wound up voting for Mr. Romney because of his business expertise and experience running Massachusetts’ economy.

To counter Mr. Romney’s business acumen, Mr. McCain campaigned with Carly Fiorina, the ousted former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard. He called her “one of the great role models and leaders in America.” She attacked Mr. Romney’s record as both a businessman and a governor, saying he had little experience creating jobs. “I’ve been a CEO, and I know that someone who buys and sells companies for profit is not necessarily someone who knows how to grow jobs,” she said. But Ms. Fiorina’s presence did little to attract voters.

Mr. McCain failed to persuade voters here that he was tough enough on immigration, a key issue in the jobs-starved state. He was the champion of a failed Senate bill that would have created a pathway for citizenship for illegal immigrants. He now emphasizes that “we must secure the border” before any new policies can be implemented. But voters didn’t align with Mr. Cain’s compassionate view of illegal immigrants, preferring his rivals’ calls for quick deportation. Mr. McCain would often cite “our nation’s Judeo-Christian values,” as a reason why he wouldn’t deport the vast majority of illegal immigrants.

The largely uncontested Democratic primary, along with freezing temperatures and persistent snow statewide, also might have played a role. Turnout was depressed among Democrats, who can vote in Republican primaries, and left-leaning independents who had less motivation to trudge to the polls.

The Democratic primary was mostly uncontested due to a dispute between the state Democratic party and the national party. Mr. McCain’s victory here in the 2000 Republican primary over George W. Bush relied heavily on those voters.

In the end, Mr. McCain’s coalition of veterans, independents and Democrats were no match for Mr. Romney’s all-in Michigan strategy. While Mr. Romney shifted resources to Michigan, Mr. McCain spent two days in South Carolina and left for that state in the midafternoon of Michigan’s primary day.

–Alex Frangos

* Content From the Wall Street Journal supplied by Elva Ramirez:
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