Michigan’s March 8 Republican presidential primary is fast approaching. In fact, absentee voter ballots for the primary have been available since Jan. 23. A full slate of 13 active GOP presidential candidates will be on the ballot. The number of GOP delegates at stake is 58, which will be distributed based on the number of votes each candidate receives.

For the first time in years, Michigan Democrats will hold a presidential primary on the same day, rather than the closed caucuses they have traditionally used. Democratic primaries are often a source of political drama, but this year’s Republican primary is expected to attract most of the attention.

Michigan presidential primary winners have a mixed record in going on to win their party’s nomination. In the 2000 state GOP primary, Sen. John McCain of Arizona gave then-Texas Gov. George Bush his biggest loss of the primary season, but Bush went on to win the nomination.

In 2008, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney defeated McCain, but McCain won the nomination nonetheless. In 2012, Romney won both the Michigan primary and the party nomination. Arguably, Romney’s win here that year played a key role in derailing former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania's attempt to take the nomination.

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On Jan. 19, Michigan Capitol Confidential asked four political consultants — two Republicans and two Democrats — a question about the upcoming primaries: 

At this juncture, would you say Michigan’s March 8 Republican primary is likely to have a significant impact on determining which candidate will eventually win the nomination?

“No, it’s more likely to fit into an overall narrative — not change it,” said Mark Grebner, president of East Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting. “Actually, I think it is going to be very interesting. I’m predicting a very big turnout, two million or more, and there could be a big crossover vote. Michigan might be a big Donald Trump state; on the other hand, it might not be such a good state for Trump at all. This could be one of the more interesting elections that we’ve had in quite some time.”

According to Steve Mitchell, of East Lansing-based Mitchell Research and Communications, the impact of the Michigan primary will depend on whether the GOP presidential race is wide open or is dominated by one candidate when March 8 rolls around.

“Right now, it’s too early to say. Suppose Trump won the Iowa caucuses, then won in New Hampshire and South Carolina and basically was just running the table. If something like that happens the Michigan primary probably wouldn’t have much impact,” Mitchell said. “But if the early victories were split up, let’s say Ted Cruz wins in Iowa, John Kasich in New Hampshire and Trump in South Carolina, the potential could be there for the Michigan primary — coming after Super Tuesday and before all those that follow — to have quite an impact.”

Ed Sarpolus, director of Lansing-based Target-Insyght, Strategic Consulting and Research, agreed with Mitchell: The ultimate impact of this year’s Michigan presidential primary will depend on the status of the overall GOP race as of March 8.

“I think a lot depends on what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire,” Sarpolus said. “At that point, we’ll have a better idea. Right now, I’d say the chances are better that the Michigan primary either provides some candidate with a boost that helps keep them in the race or there will be a poor showing that knocks some candidate out of the race. Michigan could play a bigger role in naming the eventual Republican nominee if it was a winner-take-all primary state, but it isn’t.”

John Truscott, of the Truscott Rossman Group, said he thinks the Michigan primary might have a real impact on the GOP nomination.

“I think Michigan will be significant,” Truscott said. “I assume that the Iowa and New Hampshire results will show the polling up to this point has been fairly inaccurate in predicting the outcome. So by the time we get to the Michigan primary, it could be a fairly competitive race between three or four candidates. The Michigan result could provide the momentum to propel a candidate toward the top. Also, don’t assume Hillary Clinton would be a lock at the time of the Michigan Democratic primary. She might need Michigan to seal the deal.”


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