Two truths came out of Mitt Romney's big win in Michigan last night. First, Romney can win a hotly-contested state, proving his organizational strength when New Hampshire and Iowa had suggested otherwise. And second, Rudy Giuliani's view that the early states would not matter has largely been vindicated. And Republicans will have a lot more work to do before they settle on a single candidate:
Romney's triumph in the state where he was born and where his father served as governor further scrambles a GOP field in which no candidate has been able to win more than one major contest. McCain captured first place in the New Hampshire primary Jan. 8 and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee topped the Iowa field five days earlier. ....
The surprisingly easy win in Michigan by a candidate whom many had written off vaults Romney back into contention and reaffirms the sharpened campaign message that he debuted several days ago: an attack on Washington and an emphasis on the need for dramatic change in the way politics is practiced.
In his speech Tuesday night, Romney proclaimed a "victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism," and he promised to carry his new theme into the rest of the primary states.
The Washington Post thinks that the "change" rhetoric has worked its magic in the 2008 primaries, but the only people who believe that have never watched a presidential campaign before now. All candidates use "change" as a theme, especially from the opposition party. Almost every candidate in either party talks about changing Washington from the outside, and has since they first built the capital on a swamp. Why? Because voters live outside the Beltway and can identify with that.
Beyond the de rigeur anti-Washington, anti-Establishment nonsense, Romney won by operating from a more optimistic mode than John McCain -- and not just on jobs. McCain came into Michigan thinking that the state would listen to "straight talk" about how some jobs would not return, about how global warming threatened everyone, and he turned out to be wrong. Romney talked about creating economic conditions that could bring back the jobs and managed not to talk about how the auto industry would have to absorb more government mandates to keep the sky from falling. That made the difference for Michigan, and it brought Romney a 14-point edge in Republicans that will underscore a weakness for McCain in the primaries.
So what does the win in Michigan mean? Well, for the most part, it puts to bed the ridiculous notion that he's dead in the primary race. He underperfomed in Iowa and New Hampshire, but he still had the lead in delegates coming into Michigan. He overperformed there, beating a candidate who had won a landslide primary victory in 2000. McCain lost 26 points in eight years, not a great sign for his candidacy down the road.
However, Mitt was not the only big winner. Rudy Giuliani had gambled that the crowded field and the convoluted schedule made the first, proportional states mostly irrelevant. He figured that no one could build momentum before Super Tuesday, and that it made more sense to focus on the first major winner-take-all state and the 22 Super Tuesday contests instead.
And what has happened? No one has won more than a single contested primary or caucus, and the delegates have been spread out across several candidates. If Rudy wins Florida, he gets 57 delegates and vaults into the lead, just as over 20 states head to the primaries and caucuses of Super Tuesday. California and New York have 274 delegates between them, and Rudy is the favorite to win both winner-take-all states, and will win others as well.
Will it be enough? It's quite possible now that no one will have enough momentum to sweep the field on Super Tuesday, and the race will run to the convention before it finishes. It could get decided on March 4th, when Ohio and Texas hold their primaries and assign large delegate totals. All we know at the moment is that no one -- no one -- is dead in this race.