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GOP Candidates Brace for Michigan

GOP Candidates Brace for Michigan
GOP campaign event: Kentwood, Mich. (AP)

By Wednesday, 02 March 2016 09:34 AM Current | Bio | Archive

With hectic Super Tuesday scarcely in the rearview mirror, all political eyes are now focused on Michigan’s Republican primary.

The Wolverine State is now Donald Trump country. The billionaire front-runner for the Republican nomination is comfortably ahead among likely primary voters there, who vote on March 8. According to a just-completed Marketing Resources Group (MRG) poll, Trump leads with 33 percent, followed by Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio at 18 percent, Ohio Gov. John Kasich 10 percent, and Ben Carson 9 percent.

“It’s Donald Trump’s to lose,” former GOP National Committeeman Saul Anuzis admitted to me without hesitation. But Anuzis, now state chairman of Cruz’s campaign, quickly added that “by the time Michigan rolls around next week, Ted Cruz will be positioned as the conservative alternative to Mr. Trump, who is clearly more populist than conservative.”

Coming on the heels of Cruz’s wins in Texas and Oklahoma Tuesday night, the senator’s effort in Michigan becomes much more significant.

But Anuzis and operatives in other camps conceded that their state’s lack of registration by party works to the advantage of Trump. With Democrats selecting delegates by caucus rather than primary and doing so at a different date, supporters of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders can freely vote for Trump or any Republican they want.

The history of this “Michigan mischief” is a rich one. In 2000, after losing key primaries in South Carolina and Virginia, John McCain scored an upset in Michigan over GOP front-runner George W. Bush. McCain’s win was primarily due to cross-over voting by union members, many of whom admitted without hesitation they were doing so to embarrass then-GOP Gov. and top Bush supporter John Engler.

In the primary four years ago, former Sen. Rick Santorum came within 2 percentage points of defeating Mitt Romney in the state of his birth. Former Ingham County Republican Chairman Norm Shinkle recalled that “the union halls were full of posters that read ‘Vote Santorum Tuesday, Help Obama in November.’ Big Labor was clearly behind this.”

Led by Reps. Bill Huizenga and John Moolenaar, the Rubio team insisted to me that their man is coming up and would place a strong second as well as collect significant swatches of the state’s 59 national convention delegates. (Under party rules, the delegates will be apportioned by congressional district, but a candidate must draw 15 per cent of the vote statewide to qualify for any delegates.)

“You should see the crowds Marco is drawing!” Huizenga told me, adding that the Florida senator continues to pick up major endorsements each day.

Huizenga and others make the argument that Rubio is the lone candidate who can put Michigan’s electoral votes in the GOP column for the first time since 1988. The same MRG poll that showed Trump winning the primary also showed that among all voters statewide, Hillary Clinton defeated Trump and Cruz by the same margin — 44 percent to 39 percent.

Rubio, MRG found, edged Clinton by 43 percent to 41 percent.

“A Republican can’t win the presidency without Florida and Ohio, but a win in Michigan for the first time in 28 years could go a long way toward putting the presidency in the Republican column, depending on who the nominee is,” former State GOP Chairman Mel Larsen, who is neutral in the race, told me.

Pressed as to who the nominee would be who could carry Michigan, he replied: “Rubio or Kasich.”

Well-known to Michigan Republicans as governor of neighboring Ohio, Kasich has a spirited organization under the aegis of former Rep. and 2012 U.S. Senate nominee Pete Hoekstra. On the day after Super Tuesday, Kasich commenced a five-day tour of Michigan that will feature the candidate in his signature “town hall” forum.

Privately, his campaign operatives hope that the Ohioan can hit the “magic 15 percent” he needs to qualify for delegates and use Michigan as a springboard to his own state’s primary a week later.

Although Donald Trump is considered the candidate to beat in Michigan, the state’s primary still looms unpredictably large — as it usually does.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.


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With hectic Super Tuesday scarcely in the rearview mirror, all political eyes are now focused on Michigan’s Republican primary.
GOP, Kasich, Michigan
Wednesday, 02 March 2016 09:34 AM
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