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Tim Kiska: Is Michigan’s Feb. 28 Presidential Primary Relevant?

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(credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

(credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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By Tim Kiska

Michigan’s February 28 Republican presidential primary is looking much less interesting, now that Mitt Romney has won victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But under what circumstances could the Michigan contest become more relevant?

A look at the Republican primary primary/caucus schedule includes plenty of activity between now and Feb. 28: There are primaries in South Carolina (Jan. 21), Florida (Jan. 31) and Missouri (Feb. 7), plus caucuses in Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota early next month.

But there’s a three-week break between the Feb. 7 Missouri scrum and the Michigan, during which everybody regroups, assesses the field and catches their breath.

A few scenarios:

  • Romney wins South Carolina and Florida: Michigan becomes virtually meaningless, other than as a victory lap in advance of Super Tuesday (March 6), when 10 states hold primaries or caucuses. Romney uses the primary to shore up his position in his old home state. Even under this scenario, Michigan may not get that much attention. Arizona holds its primary on the same day.
  • Romney loses in South Carolina: At this point, Michigan becomes Romney’s firewall. He would need Michigan to bolster his status as the front-runner, not to mention a night of good press in advance of Super Tuesday. His competitors might be tempted to try and hand Romney his hat in his former back yard. At which point things get interesting.

But another factor could be in play, which could put Michigan somewhere in Romney’s schedule: Republicans think his presidential bid has a shot in Michigan. And they’re also thinking about the U.S. Senate race against incumbent Debbie Stabenow. And there’s the little matter of Romney’s “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” essay on the op-ed page of the New York Times – which may require further explanation.

Before then, I’m reminded of a lesson I learned from my polling mentor, the late Frank Kenny, the former Detroit Free Press research chief, and one of the smartest men I’ve ever known.

“Timothy, the hardest thing to beat is a trend,” he would tell me.

That pretty much covers Romney’s position—for the moment.

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