How Does Michigan Affect the Lead Up to Super Tuesday?

The Republican strategist and Democratic pollster in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at American Posts on Feb. 29 in Toledo, Ohio.

Penn: Several weeks ago I thanked Newt Gingrich, and today I would like to thank Rick Santorum. Whoever emerges from the GOP fight now between Santorum and Mitt Romney will be badly damaged going into the general election season, which gets shorter and shorter every day.

Santorum’s rhetoric and robo-calls in the fight for Michigan only energized the Democratic base there and helped unify the unions against Romney. Republicans who were hopeful that 2012 was the year to turn Michigan red better look somewhere else. In the end, Santorum took home 45% of the union vote, further differentiating himself from Romney and amplifying his appeal to pro-labor, working class voters.

Going forward, I find it hard to foresee how Santorum’s endlessly out-of-touch comments regarding various social issues can make him a more appealing candidate to most Americans, especially the must-win swing voters. From decrying the separation of church and state, saying that it “makes me want to throw up,” to offending women by talking about the dangers of contraception, saying that, “It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be,” Santorum consistently lacks discretion in choosing his words, overshooting every time.

Super Tuesday looks to be more of the same. Romney will continue to slog his way through the nomination process while Santorum and Gingrich will likely hurl cheap shots his way. I believe Romney correctly sized up the fight ahead when he opened his victory speech saying that, “We didn’t win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that’s all that counts.”

(MORE: How Is Obama Faring Against a Republican Challenge?)

Hughes: Romney’s win in Michigan feels like the start of a slow dance to the inevitable. During a raucous and bizarre primary season, Republican voters have tangoed with a lot of different partners. And while some may still long for a handsome stranger to emerge from the shadows, Romney’s Michigan win effectively shuts down the search for an alternative.

After a three-week lull that often felt like wading through chewing gum with hiking boots, the primaries — and delegate counts — will now begin to pile up. Washington State hosts caucuses on Saturday, and 419 delegates are at stake in the 10 states that vote next Tuesday. The likelihood is the results will be mixed. After choosing to ignore Michigan, Gingrich will try to resuscitate his campaign with a win in his home state of Georgia, but he won’t get much credit unless he is able to expand his appeal with victories beyond his home turf. Polls show Santorum leading in Ohio, but Romney is spending heavily on television and should benefit from momentum from his twin victories in Arizona and Michigan.

Romney’s financial and organizational advantage will begin to add up, as he stands to gain 49 delegates in Virginia, where Gingrich and Santorum were not able to get on the ballot.

And chalk up the past week as the time I officially began to be sick of it all. I’ve mostly enjoyed the primary process, believing a vigorous debate is healthy and will make the ultimate Republican nominee stronger and better prepared for the fall campaign. But perhaps it was seeing the headlines focused on contraception and a 50-year-old speech by John F. Kennedy, rather than rising gas prices and declining American influence around the world that did me in. Or maybe it was the cynical attempt by Rick Santorum to lure Democrats into the Republican primary process in Michigan. But last week, even the debate felt stale. And despite all the focus on Michigan, let’s remember that our last two Republican nominees — John McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2000 — both lost the primary there on their way to winning the Republican nomination.

When he had to, Mitt Romney again found a way to win — and he won all but the most conservative Republicans and the Democrats who came trying to wreak havoc in the Republican primary. It’s time to dust off my tried and true advice for my fellow Republicans: every election comes down to a choice, and perfect is not on the ballot. Let’s grab our partner and turn our focus to the many missteps of the Obama presidency.

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