For as much as the campaign has tried to deny it, Michigan is a must-win for Mitt Romney. His father served as governor, and Romney is something of a native son among Republicans in the state. Winning wouldn’t seal the nomination, but it would block an avenue of growth for Rick Santorum, who—at this point—is his chief rival. By contrast, losing Michigan could send his campaign into a tailspin, as Republicans panic over the electoral viability of their strongest candidate.
With all of that in mind, today brings a little good news for the Romney campaign, by way of an endorsement from The Detroit News, the second-largest newspaper in the state. In its endorsement, The News praises Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital—which has previously been a liability for the former Massachusetts governor—and presents Romney as the most electable conservative.
Not everything is praise, however; they dissent from his attack on the bailout of the automobile industry, which is credited with reviving the fortunes of the Michigan economy:
We disagree with Romney on a point vital to Michigan — his opposition to the bailout of the domestic automobile industry. Romney advocated for a more traditional bankruptcy process, while we believe the bridge loans provided by the federal government in the fall of 2008 were absolutely essential to the survival of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. The issue isn’t a differentiator in the GOP primary, since the entire field opposed the rescue effort.
What’s remarkable about this endorsement is that it’s necessary. Romney is a toss-up for first place in the Michigan primary, and an endorsement like this is valuable, even if it comes with a sense of resignation. It would be one thing if Romney were in a tight race against former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, or even Texas Governor Rick Perry. The fact, however, is that he is in a struggle to surpass Rick Santorum, one of the most unpopular politicians in recent memory.
It’s possible that Mitt Romney wins the nomination, recovers from this, and goes on to a strong performance in the general election. But if the economy continues to improve—and he continues to alienate voters of all stripes—I wouldn’t count on it.