Mitt Romney Should Stoke Newt Gingrich's Ego to Win Michigan Over Rick Santorum

In 2008, Mitt Romney won Michigan decisively, probably because of his ties to the state through his father and popular former governor George Romney. This time though, Romney has been playing catch up to Rick Santorum. 

On February 15-16, an American Research Group poll put Romney five percentage points behind Santorum: 37% of respondents said they would vote for Santorum to 32% who chose Romney. However, this gap has closed. A new poll yesterday from the respected Public Policy Polling shows that Romney is now within 4% points, which is the margin of error for the poll. A glance at other polls shows that Santorum's surge is sagging a little bit and that the race in Michigan is stabilizing. 

The trick for Romney is going to be keeping Newt Gingrich involved in the race. Earlier, Romney directed most of his firepower at the former House speaker, but now Gingrich is a crucial wedge against Santorum's popularity. In the last few weeks, Gingrich and Santorum's popularity have moved in a tight inverse relationship. When Gingrich loses, Santorum speeds up. If Gingrich dropped out, Santorum would almost certainly benefit more, especially given those two candidates' fiery disagreements in the debates. I could even see a situation in which Gingrich decides to drop out to spite Romney and shift support to Santorum.

But if Romney's biggest threat is Gingrich's ego, it might also be his greatest hope. So far, Gingrich's ego seems to have kept him in the race. More respondents to the latest poll said they had an unfavorable view of Gingrich than those who said they had a favorable view of him and more respondents said he should drop out of the race than stay in it. Nonetheless, Gingrich has persevered so far and he might be encouraged to continue doing so, thinking that he will gain in Georgia.

How should Romney handle the situation? I think he might be smart not to antagonize the former speaker in the debate and shy away from criticizing him. If Romney eases up on Gingrich, then he could raise his stature and possibly make him more attractive to voters than Santorum. He should also accelerate his attacks on Santorum, because for some reason Gingrich thinks that Romney attacks cause people to defect to him and not to Romney.

In terms of managing his own campaign, Romney was smart to stick to his criticisms of the auto bailout, even though some predicted that it would antagonize union members. Respondents said that opposing the bailout would make them more likely to vote for a candidate by a margin of 34% to 27%.

Interestingly, the endorsement that Romney received from Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, might hurt him. Respondents indicated that an endorsement from Snyder would make them less likely to vote for the candidate receiving the endorsement.

Photo CreditMitt Romney Media