Just a minute there Iowa and New Hampshire . . . there’s a fight a brewing in Michigan, the likes of which will overshadow these rather meaningless early contests in selected, very small areas of the country. The Weekly Standard has an interesting analysis and history of Michigan politics, and the implication for the republican nomination for 2008.What I find most interesting about many of the mainstream media articles about Mitt Romney is their classification of him in the upper tier of republican presidential candidiates. This one has him as one of the two front runners for the presidential nomination right along side Senator John McCain.  There’s no discussion of Rudy, or any other major republican candidate:

This view has a lot to do with the two frontrunners, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. McCain, who has a rocky relationship with the Republican base dating back to 2000, has been vigorously mending fences with social conservatives. He’s also rounding up old Bushies, such as 2004 national political director Terry Nelson and media adviser Mark McKinnon, for his campaign. So far it’s working. McCain has emerged as the clear favorite among Bush’s top fundraisers–the “Pioneers” and “Rangers”–who are lining up to “max out” their political action committee donations for him.

Romney, the Mormon from Massachusetts, has an equally interesting story. He’s armed with movie star good looks and loads of charisma. He has a critically acclaimed health-care plan. And his appearances in early primary states are already drawing rave reviews. The great question mark on primary day? Romney’s religion is slightly less popular among Christian conservatives than Brokeback Mountain. Luckily for him, he’s drawn John McCain as his opponent. Those same Christian conservatives who make up the Republican base may dislike McCain even more than Mormonism.

Romney’s ace in the hole is not the fact he is governor of Massachusett, but rather the power his surname holds in Michigan:

Besides, in the political poker of presidential politics Romney has an ace in the hole. The fact that he is governor of Massachusetts may prove to be far less significant in electoral terms than the fact that, as the son of revered Michigan governor George Romney, he is seen by many as the state’s prodigal son. According to Thomas Ginster, longtime aide to another revered Michigan governor, John Engler, “Anybody over forty years old here remembers his dad; one of the main state government buildings here is called the Romney building. It’s just a household name. I think Romney will do better in Michigan than he would in Massachusetts.”

Michigan’s republican party is in the process of moving up their primary date, thereby giving Michigan a much more prominent role. If successful, the primary would be the first major primary after New Hampshire:

Right now, the Michigan Republican party is charging hard to move up the date of its presidential primary. If it has its way, the electoral powerhouse of Michigan will hold the first major primary after New Hampshire, the same day as South Carolina. If McCain can sweep New Hampshire and Michigan–states he won in 2000–and rack up South Carolina, the nomination is a lock.

But if Romney can pull off an upset either in New Hampshire, next door to his own Massachusetts, or in his home state of Michigan, he’ll survive past South Carolina, where he’s likely to get a thumbs down from Christian conservatives. The fight for the nomination could last all the way to Super Tuesday.

If Romney loses in New Hampshire, the media will pronounce his campaign on life-support. If McCain (who won the state by a hefty margin last time) loses in New Hampshire, we’ll be reading all the same stories about a reeling frontrunner that we did about Bush in 2000, and the media will put the same heat on McCain to win Michigan.

Both candidates realize how important Michigan is, and they’re acting accordingly. Romney’s national campaign headquarters is currently under construction in Oakland County. McCain is also active on the ground; his PAC recently announced it was giving over $120,000 to county and local parties in Michigan.

The rest of the article deals with a history of bad blood between the two operatives running the respective Romney and McCain campaigns. While the history and analysis is fascinating, the fact Romney is being considered right along side of McCain as a front runner for the republican presidential nomination is the big news that continues to come out of these mainstream media articles.  It’s getting more difficult just to dismiss Romney as a third tier candidate with weird religious beliefs.  The media is taking Romney’s campaign seriously and giving it a big boost in the process.  An incredibly interesting political season is upon us.