Gore Rule

Can Romney Overcome Electability Worries With a Win in Michigan?

Can’t win the state you’re from? Mark McKinnon on the ‘Gore Rule’—and Mitt Romney’s Michigan stakes.

Eleven electoral votes.

Had Al Gore won his home state of Tennessee in the 2000 presidential election, dimpled chads, hanging chads, and pregnant chads would never have entered the lexicon of American politics. And the sitting vice president, under a still-popular President Bill Clinton, would have retained the Oval Office for the Democratic Party. But Gore was no hero in his hometown; he followed in the footsteps of George McGovern, who lost his home state of South Dakota, and the election, in 1972.

Will the Gore Rule--if you can’t win your home state, you can’t and shouldn’t win the election—apply in 2012? (The only exception to the rule is James Polk, of Tennessee, ironically, who lost his home state but won the presidency in 1845.)

We’re about to find out.

Though he is closing the gap, Mitt Romney trails in some polls in Michigan, where he was born, where his father served as governor, and where primary voters go to the polls next Tuesday. Romney won the Michigan primary in 2008, which almost bounced him back into contention for the Republican nomination.

Low turnout may actually help Romney as early voting in Michigan appears to be favoring him. But Team Romney is skeptical of polls. They are clearly aware of the Gore Rule and are pouring big bucks into advertising in the state this week. They’re not saying it, but they know Michigan is a must-win. And Romney’s apparent aide de camp, Ron Paul, is pouring on the negative advertising hits on Rick Santorum, just as he did to Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich when they each threatened Romney’s lead.

But Santorum has been showing surprising strength in Michigan, leading in some polls over the last week. That is until he blew it in Wednesday’s debate.

Two words may have not only killed Santorum’s chances to win Michigan and Arizona, but the entire primary: “Team player.”


“I took one for the team.” That was Rick Santorum’s defense for supporting No Child Left Behind. Putting aside that I think it was legislation worthy of his support and he should have just defended his vote, but, “Team Player”?! Meaning: I didn’t like or support the legislation, I just voted for it because I wanted to help a Republican president. His vote wasn’t about conviction or core beliefs. Just party politics.

The last thing voters want today is a partisan team player. Or a follower. They want a leader. Someone who will boldly go their own way. Someone who supports something because of their conscience. Because it’s the right thing to do. Not because your political buddies support it. That’s what’s led to too many of the problems in D.C.

This was just one flashpoint from many moments of Santorum’s defensive play Wednesday night. And it demonstrates why it is usually so hard to run for president when you have to defend years of votes in Congress. Santorum needed to punch through last night. He needed to show he was deserving of frontrunner status. That he was a leader. He needed to play to win. Instead, he looked like he was happy to play for second place.

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Alas, now we know he is a “Team Player.”

And likely a loser.

But Romney’s “I love cars,” “I love the lakes,” and “the trees are just the right height” pitch in his home state was cloying and equally problematic. He tries so hard to please that he comes across like a Labrador that wants you to take him out for a walk.

It’s like no one really wants to win this thing.

No matter the outcome in Michigan and Arizona, Super Tuesday is coming and the results from the 10 states are likely to be mixed. Gingrich is likely to do well in Georgia, and perhaps Tennessee. Santorum will do well in Ohio, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. And Romney will do well in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia—where only Romney and Paul are on the ballot.

But if Romney loses his home-state advantage in Michigan, the Gore Rule will kick in and more doubts about his inevitability will arise. If the people who know you best aren’t willing to step up and punch your number, then why should the rest of America?