The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Revving up in Michigan

Mr. Xi comes to Washington

This week's Washington foreign-policy agenda was dominated by the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the country's presumptive next leader. Xi's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama was fairly cordial, but it fell to his direct counterpart -- Vice President Joe Biden -- to register a few complaints about China's trade practices and human rights record. "As Americans, we welcome competition," Biden said. "But cooperation, as you and I have spoken about, can only be mutually beneficial if the game is fair."  

Mitt Romney took aim at the administration's China policy in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, saying that the president had come into office as a "near supplicant to Beijing" and had since "demurred from raising issues of human rights for fear it would compromise agreement on the global economic crisis or even ‘the global climate-change crisis.' Such weakness has only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made our allies question our staying power in East Asia." Romney promised to label China a currency manipulator on "day one of my presidency."

Onetime candidate Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador to China who now has endorsed Romney, addressed the anti-China rhetoric that has appeared in both the presidential race and congressional races throughout the country. "It's much easier to talk about China in terms of the fear factor than the opportunity factor," Huntsman told MSNBC." When it comes to China, I think it's wrongheaded when you talk about slapping a tariff on Day One. That pushes aside the reality, the complexity of the relationship."

Motor City Mayhem

The next primaries will take place on Feb. 28 in Arizona and Michigan. The Wolverine State is considered home turf for Romney -- he was born in Detroit, his father was a popular governor, and Mitt won big over John McCain there in 2008 -- but the Michigan native trails Rick Santorum by 9 points in the current RealClearPolitics poll average.

Romney has defended his opposition to the Obama administration's auto industry bailouts -- a somewhat controversial position during a week when General Motors reported record profits. Romney has emphasized his deep roots in the state and nostalgia for the days of U.S. auto dominance, telling a crowd, "I love cars. I grew up totally in love with cars. It used to be, in the '50s and '60s, if you showed me 1 square foot of almost any part of the car, I could tell you what brand it was -- the model and so forth.... Now, with all the Japanese cars, I'm not quite so good at it. But I still know American cars pretty well." (Never mind that the candidate drives a Canadian-made Chrysler in a new ad.)

Santorum, meanwhile, has promised to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing sector by giving tax incentives to companies that move production back from overseas and cutting away at Obama-era regulations.

Border War

Meanwhile, Romney still leads Santorum in Arizona, but the gap is narrowing, despite the fact that the former Pennsylvania senator has virtually no ground organization in the state. The Arizona contest may push the candidates back to the right on immigration, after some more conciliatory rhetoric in Florida. Romney has been touting the support of Kris Kobach, the attorney and Kansas secretary of state who played a critical role in drafting Arizona's controversial SB 1070 immigration law.

Arizona has gone Republican in every presidential election but one since 1952, but Democrats may be hoping that the state will be in play in the fall, thanks to a backlash from the state's growing Hispanic population. Senior Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod has visited the state in recent months and the Democratic National Committee has begun running ads targeting Latino voters.

An Iranian attack on North Dakota?

Santorum's longtime fixation on the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions has been well-documented. But the rhetoric reached a new level this week when the candidate warned an audience in North Dakota that they might be a potential target for Iranian-sponsored terrorism. "Folks, you've got energy here. They're going to bother you. They'll bother you, because you are a very key and strategic resource for this country," he said. "No one is safe. No one is safe from asymmetric threats of terrorism.... That's what Iran will be all about unless we stop them from getting that nuclear weapon."

As the National Review pointed out, Santorum's security concerns have dampened his enthusiasm for building a massive new oil pipeline through the state.

Adelson re-ups on Gingrich

Onetime frontrunner Newt Gingrich is sitting out the current contests in Michigan and Arizona, focusing on the ten March 6 "Super Tuesday" primaries, which include his home state of Georgia. Gingrich spent the majority of this week fundraising in California.

Gingrich's slumping campaign may get a significant shot in the arm with news that billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson -- his principal financier -- will give an additional $10 million to the Super PAC backing Gingrich.  Adelson, known for his hawkish views on Israel and opposition to a Palestinian state, has given $11 million so far to the "Winning the Future" Super PAC.

What to watch for

Last week's Maine caucus may not actually be over yet. Romney was declared the winner -- by less than 200 votes over Ron Paul -- on Saturday, Feb. 11. despite the fact that one county had delayed its caucus due to weather and numerous irregularities were reported at other stations. The state GOP has announced that it will release a new vote total in March -- after Super Tuesday. Maine is a small state and its caucus is what's known as a "beauty contest" (it doesn't actually award any delegates), but it won't do wonders for the credibility of the early caucus system, if yet another victory -- remember Iowa? -- is posthumously taken away from Romney. 

Evidently, the candidates seem to have tired of debates. A planned CNN debate scheduled for March 1 in Georgia has been canceled after Romney and Paul declined to participate.

On the Election Channel

Uri Friedman looks at a new poll that shows a majority of Americans support the use of force to prevent a nuclear Iran.

Scott Clement says despite the recent dust-up over contraceptive-covering insurance, religion may not actually matter that much to voters.

Daniel Drezner says Romney's China policy "reads like it was composed by the Hulk."

Stephen Walt says hawks should vote for Obama.

Michael A. Cohen looks at why, with Obama in office, liberals came to support the secret war on terror.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Passport

BREAKING: Americans like Canada, not so fond of Iran

A new Gallup poll on U.S. attitudes toward other countries likely won't shock many:

 

Most interesting may be the numbers on Mexico, which jumped six points since last year despite all the grim drug war news and the anti-immigration rhetoric on the campaign trail.

You also have to wonder who the 13 percent of Americans with a positive view of North Korea are, and why that number is trending upward.