Republican Mitt Romney cast his win in the Michigan primary as “a victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism,” setting the stage for a nomination battle with John McCain and others now likely to extend through the Super Tuesday contests on Feb. 5.
“The people of Michigan said they believe in someone who is going to fight for them,” the Michigan native told The Associated Press Tuesday in a telephone interview. “I’m obviously very, very pleased. Now, on to South Carolina, Nevada, Florida. This campaign is going to go to all 50 states.”
Romney, 60, and his staff were most pleased with exit polls showing his big advantage among Republicans in Michigan, whose votes far outnumbered the independents and Democrats who could participate in either of Michigan’s primaries. Those voters preferred McCain, but Romney argued that it is the GOP that will ultimately decide the party’s nominee.
“Tonight marks the beginning of a comeback, a comeback for America,” he said in a victory speech that stomped over McCain, who had begun addressing his supporters moments earlier. TV coverage quickly switched from South Carolina, where McCain was, to Michigan.
The victory was a needed elixir for a candidate who, while performing well, had faced questions about its national viability. Romney finished second to Mike Huckabee in the Iowa caucuses and McCain in the New Hampshire primary, despite heavy campaigning and $7 million of advertising in each state.
The doubts carried over to Friday, when anemic crowds greeted Romney upon his return to Michigan following a debate in South Carolina.
Touted his lineage
Yet over the weekend, an invigorated Romney stoked his home state’s concerns, pledging to pay better attention to Michigan’s ailing economy than any of his rivals, and chiding McCain after the Arizona senator said some of the auto industry’s lost jobs would never be recovered.
“I come from a good line of Romneys who care about people,” he said Saturday in Traverse City.
The former Massachusetts governor also played a sentimental card, traveling to Lansing to pose beneath his father’s portrait, dragging his first-grade teacher over to speak to reporters at a campaign stop and then touring the Detroit auto show, as he had 50 years before when George Romney ran American Motors.
In between, he told tales of summer vacations in the north country, of meeting his wife, Ann, at a high school party and he even paid tribute to Vernors, a local ginger ale. Tactically, Romney relocated more than a dozen senior staffers to Michigan to assist the local campaign staff.
“This is the day that’s going to change, I believe, the politics of our nation as we get ready to select our nominee,” Romney said Tuesday as he kicked off primary day with a rally in Grand Rapids, a GOP stronghold.
The air of confidence extended to Romney’s staff, which printed a Tuesday schedule including an 8 p.m. “victory” party in Southfield.
As he had since Iowa, Romney pointed to a dearth of private-sector experience for Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, and accused McCain of achieving few results despite nearly three decades in Washington.
“People have been talking about things that Washington has been promising for years but not delivered,” Romney said in Grand Rapids. “And so, I will go to Washington to stop the bickering, the sniping, the partisanship, the score-settling. I will go to Washington to actually get the job done for the people of America.”
Mich. strategy reflects shift
Romney’s focus on Michigan was the first test of a strategic shift his campaign plans to follow for the remainder of the nominating contest.
While Romney initially envisioned a 50-state campaign launched by wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, the questions he got for second-place finishes in each contest, as well as the dearth of criticism McCain, Huckabee and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani received for picking and choosing between the contests, prompted him to scale back and concentrate on a state-by-state effort.
Romney pulled back his television ads in South Carolina and Florida, reallocated the money to Michigan, and instead of the negative, comparative spots he used to pound Huckabee in Iowa and McCain in New Hampshire, he relied on a commercial showing him with his late father, who was governor from 1963 to 1969. Another featured a former collegue paying tribute to Romney’s help in the search for his lost daughter.
All told, the multi-millionaire spent more than $2 million on ads in the state, again the most of the Republican field.
Romney was headed to South Carolina on Wednesday for a day-and-a-half of campaigning, before decamping to Nevada. Both states vote Jan. 19, and while Romney has trailed in South Carolina polling, he has been the only GOP candidate to pay attention to Nevada. Those facts prompted his staff to focus where it had the greatest potential for victory.
Going forward, Romney is targeting Florida, which votes Jan. 29, as well as the numerous states voting on Feb. 5, when 1,038 delegates will be awarded in caucuses and primaries from coast to coast. Giuliani has essentially skipped all the early contests to focus on Florida and the Feb. 5 states.