Santorum Comes Close in Michigan But Doesn't Quite Make It

Analysis: It remains to be seen whether Rick Santorum will see the Michigan primary as the high water mark of his candidacy.

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Amiel Ungar,

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney

It is hazardous to prognosticate on the Republican race, but yesterday's Michigan primary may be seen as the Republican equivalent of the Battle of Gettysburg. Rick Santorum was hoping for a decisive victory, needed to offset the Romney's overwhelming financial and organizational advantage.

Had he won in Romney's home state, he could conceivably have denied Romney victory, in the same sense that a Southern victory in Gettysburg could have altered the Civil War and thwarted the union strategy of grinding down the South by superior numbers and industrial resources.

Considering the odds against Rick Santorum in Michigan, he came very close to an upset. Outspent 5 to 1 with a Republican organization in Michigan, from the governor on down, overwhelmingly endorsing Romney and getting out the vote for him even to the extent of identifying absentee voters who tended towards Romney, Rick Santorum still managed to keep it a tight race.

But if Gettysburg was the "high tide of the Confederacy", Michigan may prove to have been the high tide of the Santorum candidacy.

Santorum's version of Pickett's charge in the battle of Gettysburg, were positions that can be considered unforced errors in his campaign. He claimed that John F. Kennedy's speech on the separation of church and state wanted to make him throw up. He appeared to signal that the role of women was in the home and attacked Obama for wanting to make college education universal.

Santorum himself wishes that he could take the Kennedy remark back. He is right that the dysfunctional American family is a major factor. that the Kennedys were far from moral paragons. that yes. college is not for everyone and the investment in a college degree is not always justified by the results. Still. he came across looking too reactionary. According to exit polls, while he battled Romney to an even finish among men, he lost the female vote by 5% and that made the difference.

Romney won on the three E's-- experience, the economy and electability. Rick Santorum now has to decide whether he widens his appeal beyond social issues to the economy.

In Ohio, a must win state for him in next week's super Tuesday, he was already attempting to show that he was a player on the economics issue. Emulating Newt Gingrich, he has decided to emphasize energy policy, that he blames for the stagnant economy. The danger with such  strategy is that he is trying to compete with Mitt Romney's strong suit, only emphasizing his inferiority on the issue. This is the very same way that Romney entered terrain that was favorable to his opponents by trying to play "severely conservative".

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have both, on occasion, claimed that they wanted to take on Romney one-on-one and that the other conservative candidate should withdraw. Given Romney's overwhelming advantage in resources and organization, they may be reduced to a division of labor – Santorum beating Romney in the North while Gingrich does so in Dixie.

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine who is active in Republican politics and had just returned from Washington, was speaking about a possible Romney-Santorum ticket.

In politics, one never says never, but the Michigan primary appears to have ruled out this option. A great deal of bad blood was created. It is not the same as George Herbert Walker Bush assailing Ronald Reagan's voodoo economics and then uniting with Reagan on the ticket in 1980. This was real animosity.  

If Romney needs a substitute for Santorum, this could conceivably open the door for Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who has sounded much more receptive to a vice presidential nomination than he did to calls that he run for the presidency.