It was supposed to be one state Mitt Romney didn't have to worry about: Michigan. After all, Romney grew up here, and his father was an auto executive and governor.
But the script has changed, with Romney's hold on Michigan–and the GOP nomination–under assault from a resurgent Rick Santorum. "It is going to be bedlam in the Republican Party if he can't win Michigan," Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront.
James Muffet, president of Citizens for Traditional Values, a Michigan-based group of social conservatives, told The Washington Post "it's going to be a slugfest here. We didn't think we'd matter, and now we're at the eye of the storm."
Simmons says "(Romney) has to find a way to get back to the Michigan blue collar, evangelical Republican base," though as CNN contributor John Avlon argues, any extension of the Republican nominating fight spells trouble for Romney in an eventual general election–when Romney will need to sway independent voters:
Republicans' ideological overreach since taking control of Congress has inspired a backlash among independents that Obama is now benefiting from. Even with Congress having an all-time low 11% approval rating according to CNN polls, congressional Republicans are the least popular species in the Washington swamp among independents. As a result, independent voters are open to giving Obama another look, especially when presented with the prospect of conservatives having unified control of government. But the problem is most pronounced with Romney.
CNN columnist LZ Granderson says Romney's ties to Michigan have decayed over the years. He was born here, he lived here. But he's not family. Not anymore." In a column, Granderson says Michigan may be ready to tell Romney to go away:
"He forgot about the people back home who depended on the auto industry to put food on the table, pay mortgages, send the kids to college. He greeted us like family when he needed our votes, but when he left town he treated us like strangers."
And the risk for Romney on his home turf, many believe, is extreme. As political consultant Jordan Gehrke told The Atlantic's Molly Ball, "Michigan has always been Romney's firewall...It would be a tremendous surprise if he lost the state. Even if Santorum gets within a few points...the whole premise of [Romney's] electability starts to crack."