Mitt Romney charmingly calls them “silvers.” That’s his code for second place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. His best hope for the gold is Michigan.
Romney will, in fact, win the Michigan Republican primary, confidently predicts GOP State Chairman Saul Anuzis.
Anuzis is not backing any candidate for the Republican nomination and has no axe to grind. Indeed, the motor-cycle riding, cigar-smoking maverick would like the contest to be close and hotly contested because it will attract more media to the state and more donors to the state party. But the tall Lithuanian has the un-political habit of bluntly telling the truth.
To anyone over the age of 50, Anuzis says, the Romney name is fondly remembered. Mitt’s father, Michigan Governor George Romney, who was first elected in 1962, is still well-liked in both the tri-county Detroit metro area, as well as “outstate,” the predominantly rural portions of the state.
During George Romney’s tenure auto-workers and auto-executives made peace, and the Michigan state government adopted the generous welfare policies pushed by the United Auto Workers. So many moderate Republicans, Anuzis says, believe that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree and that Mitt Romney would be a liberal Republican like his father. Michigan conservatives of a certain age fondly recall the elder Romney’s cultural conservatism; his clean-cut and intact family, his love of America, his enthusiasm for economic growth, the pride in his eyes when he toured a new plant. George Romney confidently believed in what they used to call “Americanism,” family values, free enterprise, faith, and freedom. But the days of Michigan being the workshop of the world are long gone and yet, from its embers, still glows the Romney name.
Younger voters, Anuzis says, are responding to his near constant campaigning in the state. The Romney campaign has an extensive organization throughout the state and it has been running for more than a year – a tireless assembly line that plants yard signs, stuffs envelopes, and phones, knocks, and mails every Republican Michigander. Romney has spoken at events across the state and reminds people of his roots there: his first date was on Mackinaw Island, his first house in the Detroit suburbs, and so on. In nearly every part of the state, Romney can and does point to some milestone in his life that occurred nearby. It makes him the local boy, the favorite son.
Anuzis watched how professionally Romney and his wife handled the 2006 Republican state convention. First, he was the only Republican presidential contender to even show up. Second, before he spoke, he and his wife went to the center of the room, and he took one side, shaking hands, slapping backs, and smiling, while she took the other. “They worked the room,” Anuzis said, “a complete charm offensive.”
By comparison, McCain’s paid organization dissolved months ago and he is only now desperately trying to stitch it back together. Huckabee’s only hope, Anuzis said, is to rely on the organizational powers of evangelical churches to field volunteers and man the phones. While Rudy Giuliani has both organization and financial support in the state, he hasn’t invested the time in Michigan that Romney has.
There may be a surprise on the Democratic side as well. Although Hillary Clinton’s major opponents (Obama, Edwards) are not on the ballot, she may be in trouble anyway. Outgoing state Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer, is actively and openly working against Clinton. Brewer is an Edwards supporter, Anuzis says, and will not run for reelection as state party chairman. Brewer is encouraging voters to vote “uncommitted” if they support any candidate other than Clinton. If “uncommitted” wins more than 15% of the vote in any congressional district, an “uncommitted” i.e. non-Clinton delegate will be sent to the National Convention. If Michigan polls are accurate, the anti-Hillary vote is strong in the state.
So Tuesday night, January 15th, will be exciting for both Republicans and Democrats. Among the Republicans, Michigan will determine whether Romney triumphs or fades away. And Democrats will watch the excitement as Hillary battles the state party chairman’s effort to humiliate her.
Richard Miniter is PJM’s Washington correspondent and blogs at RichardMiniter.com. Jewelyn Wellborn is Richard Miniter’s assistant