02/27/2012 09:33 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2012

Michigan and Arizona Primaries: Similarities and Differences

Three things will ensure the victory in almost any election. Indeed, the first two of these are often sufficient. With the third, however, victory is a lock cinch:

  1. One side launches a substantial negative campaign defining his opponent to the voters.
  2. The opposing candidate does not respond.
  3. The opposing candidate is virtually unknown.


All three conditions were met in the case of tomorrow's Arizona primary:

  1. About a week and a half ago, Mitt Romney launched a substantial media campaign characterizing Rick Santorum as a big-spending, earmarking, Washington insider.
  2. Santorum made, to my knowledge, no media buys in the state. And, he visited the state only once, that in conjunction with the presidential debate last week in Mesa.
  3. Santorum was little known until this month. Little public attention was devoted to him as Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich sequentially surged against Mitt Romney. Only with the recent demise of each of these candidacies, has Santorum begun to attract national attention.
The polling numbers fit this pattern perfectly. Santorum hardly measured in the polls in Arizona until after his triple victory on February 7. Then his national numbers surged, as did his numbers in Arizona; polls showed him as close as three percentage points behind Romney. About ten days ago, however, Romney's paid media campaign kicked in. And it went unanswered; I have yet to see a Santorum ad. Unanswered charges against a little-known candidate. Romney has been able to define Santorum to a significant part of the electorate. Game over. Romney now has a comfortable lead.

(Good move by Arizona's Governor, Jan Brewer yesterday: endorse the guy who is going to win anyway and try to get some credit for his victory. Like finding a parade and jumping out in front of the lead band.)


The pattern in Michigan has both similarities and key differences. Romney held a commanding lead until Santorum lept onto the national stage with his triple victory on February 7th. At that point, Santorum's numbers surged and he gained a double-digit lead. As in Arizona, however, Romney dominated the paid airwaves. But unlike Arizona, in Michigan he did not have a monopoly on paid advertising. Santorum was probably outspent but his effort in Michigan has been described by knowledgeable observers as surprisingly robust. And unlike Arizona, both candidates spend a lot of time in the state, collecting unpaid media attention. This also tended to equalize things, at least in comparison to Arizona. Romney inflicted serious damage to Santorum's standing, but Santorum was able to respond sufficiently to keep the margin close. In Michigan, there is no party registration, so anyone can request a ballot (only independents and Republicans can vote in Arizona). And Michigan has seen some signs of efforts by Democrats to help Santorum; no such effort was made in Arizona where it would have had to be directed only at independents. Enough variables in the mix that they will actually have to count the votes to see who wins Michigan.

(The author moved from Michigan to Arizona years ago).