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Big Night For Political Junkies As Michigan Republians Vote

February 28, 2012

It is such a big night we are even brewing coffee at our home for the election returns!!  (Chocolate raspberry)  My dietitian tells me that less coffee would be to my benefit, and so I limit my intake but tonight I am sure she would agree that the national story merits something special.

The fact remains a strong mood of unease claims the Republicans as they search for a presidential nominee, Democrats are just eating this food-fight up with delight, and political junkies of every stripe are just hoping it continues until summer.

So, yeah, this is a night for good coffee.  James made brownies too.

So what are we looking for tonight?

My gut tells me that Mitt Romney takes a very narrow victory in Michigan.  I have long felt that even when Santorum was well ahead in a number of state polls.  Romney narrowed those numbers, and even slightly moved ahead until this past weekend when internals started showing a Santorum rebound, of sorts.

So tonight do not expect an early evening–but lots of drama.  The type Teddy White would have loved, and I know somewhere he is looking down and smiling.

Hopefully with a hot cup of coffee.

Here is one of the best, Nate Silver, providing some insight.

However things turn out on Tuesday, this has been a dramatic enough sequence that it demands some explanation. It is unlikely that Mr. Santorum’s last-minute rebound is purely a statistical fluke. There is a fairly rich amount of polling in the state and, importantly, Mr. Santorum has gained ground in consecutive polls issued by the same survey firms. In the Baydoun Consulting poll, for instance, which had him down by two points on Monday, he had trailed by eight points just days earlier. So the rebound is probably real.

There are about eight plausible explanations for what might have caused it:

1. Mr. Santorum has the better closing message. His campaign has been more positively oriented, although not uniformly so.

2. Voters are rallying to his side after he took some harsh treatment in news media coverage.

3. His voters are more enthusiastic and starting to come home as likely voter models become more accurate.

4. Mr. Santorum is picking up support from Newt Gingrich supporters who have concluded that Mr. Gingrich is not viable.

5. A set of minor gaffes by Mr. Romney, related to the staging of his Ford Field speech and a remark he made about Nascar, hurt him at the margins, as well as the fact that he took part of Sunday away from the campaign trail to attend the Daytona 500.

6. Mr. Romney had some temporary momentum from last week’s debate — in my view it was a “win” for Mr. Romney but not an overwhelming one — which has since evaporated.

7. Mr. Santorum, whose “super PAC” bought a fair amount of advertising inventory in Michigan about a week ago, has equalized the advertising gap in the closing days of the campaign, having been disadvantaged by it before.

8. Mr. Santorum is benefiting from Democrats, some of whom are crossing over to vote in an effort to create chaos in the primary, and some of whom are responding to robocalls that were placed by Mr. Santorum’s campaign.

Take your pick from this menu — I tend to think that Nos. 1, 6, 7 and 8 are probably more salient factors than the others, but there is no way to tell.

One word of warning: factors like early voting, crossover voting and the relatively large amount of demographic diversity within Michigan will make it tricky to call the state based on exit poll results and the first few precincts that report. For instance, if early and absentee results are reported before those cast on Election Day, as is common in some states, Mr. Romney could initially emerge with a lead that proves  ephemeral. I generally take the view that the news networks are too quick to call a race — shouldn’t have we learned something from Florida in 2000 or Iowa this year? — but there is reason to be especially cautious here.

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