U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra of Michigan tells Newsmax that Mitt Romney “dodged a bullet” Tuesday night by squeaking out a narrow victory over Rick Santorum in his home state.
“It could have been very damaging to his campaign if he had not won in his home state,” Hoekstra said in an exclusive interview Tuesday night. “I think it was tougher for him than what he thought it was going to be but he dodged that bullet. I don’t think he’s the invincible candidate.”
Unlike many of the contests thus far in the hotly contested GOP nomination battle, a winner could not be projected in the Great Lakes State for more than an hour after the polls closed, with the former Massachusetts governor receiving 41 percent of the vote compared to 38 percent for the former Pennsylvania senator, with 82 percent of the vote counted.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul finished third with 12 percent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich finished fourth with 7 percent of the vote.
Hoekstra, a Republican who was elected to the House in 1992, and served as chairman of the powerful Intelligence Committee, said the close primary battle in the state where Romney was born — and his father served as governor — takes some of the momentum out of the Romney campaign heading into next week’s Super Tuesday contests.
“Well I think it’s not going to give him a huge boost of momentum going into Super Tuesday but it’s a much better position for him to be in than if he had lost in Michigan today,” said Hoekstra, who did not endorse any of the candidates. “I think this clearly says the election this primary season is going to go on for another week, two weeks at least. It’s going to go through Super Tuesday. It will probably go through most of the month of March and it’s not over yet.”
The challenge for Romney will be proving he can now win in the Southern states.
“He didn’t close the sale tonight. He’s going to have to go in now and prove that he can compete in the Southern states and that he can win there,” Hoekstra explained.
While Romney picked up two significant wins Tuesday night — Michigan and Arizona — the other three candidates remain viable, according to Hoekstra.
“People have predicted that the race has been over before and one thing we know: They’ve all been wrong,” he explained. “The voters want to have their say. They’re committed to electing the person that they believe is conservative and can beat Barack Obama and that consensus has not jelled yet.”
He described Newt Gingrich’s apparent strategy of focusing his attention on the 10 states that vote on Super Tuesday as high risk.
“Clearly he has been out of the news for the last three weeks. And we’ll have to wait and see as to whether his strategy of focusing on Super Tuesday contests will work or not,” said Hoekstra. “If he wins Georgia and wins another two or three states on Super Tuesday, all of a sudden he is a viable candidate again.
“I think that it’s going to be hard for him to take the momentum away from Rick Santorum as being the anti-Romney or the alternative to Mitt but that’s the strategy that he embraced,” he continurd. “We’ll just have to see whether it works or not.”
Hoekstra does not believe Romney’s stand on the automotive bailout hurt him with Michigan voters, but his campaign could have done a better job at managing the issue.
“Republican primary voters indicated that they were not supportive of the bailout,” said Hoekstra. “I think the better argument on the bailout is to say the federal government should have provided a backstop for bankruptcy.”
He said the federal government made some “disastrous decisions” in terms of the bailout.
“We all agreed that they should have gone to bankruptcy. What happened is when the government — the federal government —ran it rather than the courts, they made some disastrous decisions in terms of implementing it, which Mitt could point out and say here’s why the Obama administration managing the bailout was bad,” Hoekstra said. “They put the union interests before shareholder interests. They shut down thousands of dealerships without due process and they ended up costing the government somewhere between $20 and $30 billion. And that’s why going through traditional bankruptcy might have been a better alternative than the process that we ultimately ended up going through.”
Hoekstra also said that he did not believe Santorum’s plea for votes from Democrats in the primary was a bad strategy.
“I don’t think Rick invited Democrats to come and vote for him just to create mischief in a Republican primary,” Hoekstra added, noting that Santorum was successful in attracting some Catholic pro-life voters and Reagan Democrats. “I think he was appealing to them with his message believing that he could get them in February and that he would be able to keep them if he was the nominee in November.”
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