Politics Betting: Mitt the man for Michigan?
Romney urgently needs a couple of resounding victories to keep the Santorum challenge at bay...
Despite the pickle Mitt Romney has gotten himself into, Paul Krishnamurty still thinks he looks worth taking on at very short odds-on in the Michigan primary.
Punters will be keeping a close eye on two pivotal primaries as the Republican race approachws what could be a decisive phase this Tuesday in Michigan and Arizona. Mitt Romney remains just [1.32] to win his party's nomination, and no better than [1.2] for either primary, but the market has already proved an unreliable guide. After Romney was turned over at [1.01] in Colorado, money-buying seems either very brave or very stupid.
It feels like we've been here before.
Prior to the Florida contest, Romney's principal opponent gathered a head of steam and went favourite for the primary. Then, Newt Gingrich met his opponent's wall of well-financed attack-ads and after a lacklustre performance in the TV debates, Romney won comfortably. With Gingrich wounded, Rick Santorum became the new anti-Romney, delivering a devastating trio of defeats in the latest round of contests. However, Santorum's star has somewhat waned in the past week after his extreme social-conservative agenda came under the microscope. The former Pennsylvania Senator struggled in last week's CNN debate in Arizona, prompting polls to shift back towards Romney.
That may not, however, be the final story. Santorum may have more staying power than Gingrich, and critically, a more enthusiastic bedrock of support. Whereas Gingrich was always going to encounter troubles defending his chequered history, the case against Santorum is less clear-cut in electoral terms. The Republican hierachy fear Santorum's extreme views on contraception, abortion and the existence of Satan will make him a dream opponent for President Obama, but that doesn't necessarily apply to the Republican base. Santorum has out-performed polling expectations so far because the party's Christian base turned out for him. Although Romney's lead in Michigan has increased to 6%, differential turnout could reduce it. The fact this bitter race is increasingly turning off voters, hardly helps the favourite's cause.
Indeed, Romney's problem remains an almost total lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy, owing his front-runner status to the weaknesses of others. The significant anti-Romney faction has tried out one alternative after another, only to see Herman Cain, Rick Perry and then Gingrich falter under scrutiny. Even his core brand - as the candidate most likely to beat Obama - is disintegrating. Recent polls show the President comfortably ahead of all the Republican candidates, with Romney's numbers almost identical to those of Santorum. Presented with a choice between two candidates that are equally likely to lose in November, Republicans may prefer the one they agree most with, irrespective of mainstream opinion. Although he's slipped since last week's debate, a previous national head-to-head poll measuring Santorum 21% ahead of Romney, must have alarmed favourite backers.
It also alarmed Republican opinion-formers, who have started openly touting the prospect of a 'white knight' candidate. So long as the race remains divisive and likely headed for a 'brokered convention', the likes of Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels cannot be entirely ruled out. Indeed after ABC reported a prominent Senator advocating a third President Bush, the Florida Governor was backed into just [10.5] for the nomination. Bush himself did nothing to quell the speculation by criticising the candidates for "appealing to people's fears and emotions."
Romney urgently needs a couple of resounding victories to keep the Santorum challenge at bay and dismiss this speculation. Arizona has long been regarded a 'banker' for him, but Michigan is less straightforward. Despite this being his home state, where his father was Governor, Romney's eltiist image seems a liability here. When he jokes about his wife's multiple Cadillac-ownership, it goes down about as well in austerity-hit Michigan as his $10,000 bet challenge to Rick Perry, or his lack of empathy with the poor. Even worse was his criticism of Obama's popular bailout of Detroit-based General Motors.
Santorum is hardly in touch with the average Michigan voter either, but he will at least be able to count on support from a sizeable evangelical community in the state. If the empty seats for Romney's hometown rally last week were anything to go by, he's going to have trouble getting his vote out. After what happened in Colorado, it must be worth risking a few pennies laying the favourite at very short odds-on again.
Lay Mitt Romney for Michigan Primary @ [1.3]