Is Gingrich Really Leading Romney in Michigan? Dirty Trick Polling (and a Gullible Press)

Yesterday there was a buzz that Michigan-born Mitt Romney was trailing Newt Gingrich in the Great Lakes State. That may be the case, but if so we should look for confirmation somewhere other than a press release from longtime Romney-haters who claim as some of their greatest successes Michael Steele’s election at RNC chair and the Republican self-immolations of Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle.

Here’s where things started yesterday, in the daily paper that serves Michigan’s second-largest metro area, the Grand Rapids Press:

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has pulled slightly ahead of favorite son Mitt Romney among voters likely to participate in Michigan’s Feb. 28 presidential primary election, according to a poll released today.

Gingrich was the choice of 30.75 percent of likely voters, passing Romney, the choice of 28.74 percent, according to the survey of Michigan voters likely to participate in the open primary, said John Yob, CEO of Strategic National, a Grand Rapids political consulting firm

“If Newt Gingrich wins Michigan, the contest will be over and he’ll win the nomination,” said Yob, who served as national political strategist for John McCain’s come-from-behind primary campaign in 2007 and 2008.

Like an agent at a border crossing who doesn’t ask the driver for ID or to open the trunk, Taegan Goddard waved the story through Political Wire without any questions about the reliability or potential bias of the poll. Since then, it’s been written up on Laura Ingraham’s site, at The Hill, and via Fox News, its on the websites of newspapers and TV stations all over the country.

The problem, though, is that the poll comes not just from any consultant, but one whose family has been in a political death match with the Romney family and their allies for over a decade.

Back in 1998, Michigan’s Democratic AG Frank Kelley–nicknamed the Eternal General, since he had held the office since 1961–announced his retirement late in the election cycle. The Democrats quickly settled on a replacement candidate: a unknown corporation council from Michigan’s largest county by the name of Jennifer Granholm. The Republicans had been set to run the schlub they’d run the previous election, but when Kelley announced his retirement, the GOP establishment, from governor John Engler down, rallied behind Scott Romney, son of the former governor and brother of the dolphin named Flipper current presidential candidate.

Scott Romney didn’t get the nomination. Michigan’s parties nominate their AG candidates at conventions, and GOP national committeeman Chuck Yob–John Yob’s father–took on Engler and the rest of the GOP establishment and prevailed on the convention floor. Republicans still hold grudges against Yob for Romney’s convention defeat. In a year where Jack Kevorkian’s attorney Geoffrey Feiger won the Democratic gubernatorial primary and went on to get destroyed in the general election, Granholm was able to squeak by Yob’s much weaker candidate, which set her up for her two terms as governor.

The war between the Yob’s and the rest of the Michigan Republican establishment continues to today. One of the ways it plays out is between John Yob’s firm, Strategic National, and their main rival, The Sterling Group. The Sterling Group gets much more party business than Yob’s firm, but that may have created other problems for the Republican party, as Yob has developed a niche for helping candidates win intra-Republican fights who then prove to be the best friends Democrats could have:

In 2010 we had our most successful year to date assisting candidates including Rick Snyder for MI Governor, Sharron Angle for NV US Senate, Christine O’Donnell for DE US Senate, Brian Calley for MI Lt. Governor, Roger Villere for LA LT. Governor, Bill Schuette for MI Attorney General, Rep. Paul Scott for MI State House, Rocky Raczkowski for US Congress from MI, Mitch Lyons for MSU Board of Trustees, and U of M Board of Regent candidates Andrew Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman.

Snyder won the Michigan primary and prevailed in November, but he was not the establishment choice; he won the nomination because he had tremendous personal wealth that he could put in to television ads and because the establishment choices split their votes. But Angle and O’Donnell cost Republicans one and possibly two sure-bet US Senate wins. Raczkowski beat a more formidable general election candidate for the nomination and then lost a close race to freshman congressman Gary Peters. And Paul Scott’s name may sound familiar; he’s the rightwing legislator recalled in November.

If Yob is trying to screw Romney, he found an easy way to do it: release polling numbers and hope nobody questions his motives in wanting to spread bad news about a rival. That the practice is so widespread and easily perpetrated should be dismaying to anyone who would like the media to do more than mindlessly disseminate someone’s propaganda. But in this case, seeing as how it probably helps Gingrich and is being done by operatives who regularly undermine GOP efforts to put forth their best general election candidates, let’s hope it works.

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