The Michigan Republican primary is finally over. Michigan's Upper Peninsula extends into the Central Time Zone, so all Michigan waited until 9:00 to see statewide results. But in a race so tight it squeaked, drowning the answer, who DID win Michigan?
However this comes out, 9% to 10% of voters self-identified as Democrats and about a third self-identified as independents, and Republicans were voting for "anybody but Romney." Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has the Party's money behind him. But there's blood in the water in Michigan, and it's Mitt's blood. When the winner is announced, there will be asterisks. Romney, should he win will be the Roger Maris of this campaign. Win or lose, Santorum's bug will be his Democratic voters.
Both candidates seemed at times to be trying to lose. Mitt Romney defended his "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" approach from 2008, and Rick Santorum was telling women that he'd like to see contraceptives be illegal.
With three percent of the vote counted, Santorum was leading 40% to 39%. At six and seven percent, that had not changed. And while the nation waited, CNN vamped... MSNBC vamped... the written and on-line press vamped. Less was said to no purpose for that hour between the first Michigan poll closings and the last than had been since 2008 when the nation waited for west coast polls to close so commentators could tell America what everybody watching knew... Obama was president.
This time will be a little different. It's too close for that. Still, at 1%, Romney is trailing at 41% to 38%. Romney's campaign is rolling out the "look over there" strategy, blaming the UAW for loaning its membership list to Santorum for robo-calling.
Exit polling continues. White evangelicals have been self-identifying at a rate of 39% in Arizona and 38% in Michigan as they left the polling places. Forty percent backed the auto bailouts, and simply discounted their candidate's declarations that they were mistakes.
The witching hour approaches. First characterizations with all polls closed are that Romney is taking Arizona easily. Michigan remains too close to call. At 16% of the vote in, the difference is fewer than 250 votes between Romney and Santorum. However, the 16% has a big hole in it. The largest three counties in Michigan have reported only five percent of their votes, and Romney is leading in all three.
At 25% of the vote in, Romney leads 41% to 38%, a lead that is still there at 31% of the vote, but no one is calling the race. And at 61% of votes counted, exactly one hour after the last poll closed with 450,000 votes counted, Romney's lead has expanded to 21,500 votes and four percentage points... and STILL it's not callable. Why? Because 70,000 votes are still out in Oakland County, and there's no way to guess the final margin.
The above aside, a reasonable prediction is that Romney wins the Michigan Republican Primary... by about two percentage points. But a reasonable interpretation is that Santorum wins this vote... by the six to eight points by which he did NOT lose. Santorum is conceding at 10:10. NBC just projected Romney at 10:14.
Still... Mitt Romney has a problem, and Super Tuesday is barely a week away.