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In Birmingham, National Media Figures Trade Jabs, Predictions over Michigan Primary

A panel of national political journalists discussed Michigan's presidential primary and the fate of the Republican Party at the Adcraft Club of Detroit's annual meeting Monday.

Mitt Romney will take Michigan in Tuesday's Republican presidential primary, according to a panel of political insiders who gathered Monday afternoon at the  in Birmingham. 

However, whatever happens in the 2012 presidential election is still up in the air, as is the fate of the modern Republican Party, they said.

That was the sentiment at the Adcraft Club of Detroit's annual meeting Monday, which hosted the panel of columnists, writers and bloggers just one day shy of Michigan's presidential primary.

The mood was generally lighthearted Monday as more than 100 members of the group of the region's marketing and advertising executives attended the luncheon meeting.

On the panel were:

  • Andrew Sullivan: An author and pioneering daily blogger who jumped from The Atlantic to The Daily Beast last April. He's a weekly columnist for the Sunday Times of London and former editor of The New Republic.
  • David Frum: Contributing editor at Newsweek, as well as a presidential speechwriter for George W. Bush in 2001-02. In 2007-08, Frum was senior foreign policy adviser to Rudy Giuliani's brief presidential campaign.
  • Michael Tomasky: A special correspondent for Newsweek magazine, Tomasky is also the editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, a quarterly journal based in Washington, DC.
  • Patricia Murphy: A former U.S. Senate aide, Murphy covers the campaign for and is founding editor of Citizen Jane Politics, a nonpartisan website for women. She previously was Capitol Hill bureau chief for AOL.
  • John Avlon: Avlon, a senior columnist at Newsweek and a CNN contributor, moderated the event. His books include Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.

Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, a popular news website owned by the magazine, opened the event. Brown, who has also worked for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, said Monday was the best time for political junkies to be in Michigan.

"We want to have a fiery and feisty conversation on the eve of this great primary," she said.

Election could help redefine the modern Republican Party

While the topic of Tuesday's primary weaved in and out of the conversation among panelists, the hot topic was the future of the modern Republican Party going into the 2012 election.

Much of the rhetoric tossed around during the Republican primary has been focused on social issues that tend to appeal to the far right, panelists said, such as abortion or gay rights.

Whether or not the candidates believe it, Sullivan said that kind of talk isn't going to work with many of Michigan's "Reagan Democrats" or with centrist voters across the country. 

"This intolerance, this lack of deviating from the base, this is new for Republicans," Tomasky said. "Why do they act the way they do? Well, (Rick) Santorum because he believes it, and (Mitt) Romney because he's appealing to the base." 

Sullivan took it a step further, noting that if the Republican Party continues to focus solely on social issues, the impact on the party — as it stands now — could be "catastrophic." But for Sullivan, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

"I want to see (the Republican Party) reform," he said. "I want to see it get rid of its religious obsessions and an economic philosophy from the 1980s."

Most of the panelists said they believe Michigan-born Romney will win Tuesday's primary. The exception was Sullivan, who said he hopes Santorum wins so that President Barack Obama wins re-election in the fall.

The only panelist to talk about Ron Paul was Sullivan, who endorsed Paul in a December op-ed on The Daily Beast. In fact, Sullivan said some of the only energy and relative newcomers to the Republican Party have been in support of Paul.

"This is the future of the Republican Party — they want to abandon foreign intervention, they want smaller government, and they want more freedom," he said.

Obama, Romney should begin appealing to the center, panelists say

Looking ahead to November, Murphy said Obama needs to reach out to independent voters and centrist Democrats and begin dispelling any disappointment they may feel in his administration.

"Centrists Democrats expected Obama to be someone who he wasn't," she said, noting that Obama should put the spotlight back on reducing the deficit as well.

As for advice for Romney — whom many of the panelists agreed will be the one challenging Obama in the fall — Frum said Romney needs to start moving toward the center and perhaps tout his own successful experiment with universal health care. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney helped pass a law there in 2006 that mandates that every resident obtain a state government-regulated, minimum level of health care insurance.

"Remember universal health care and how it worked," Frum said. "You might as well be proud of it."

Tomasky, however, isn't worried about Obama's chances in November and believes he'll pick up Michigan again as well (Obama won Michigan's electoral votes in 2008). What will be the thing to watch, however, will the changing demographics of who votes, Tomasky said. White and working class voters will soon be joined by white professionals as the top demographic that turns out to the polls, he said, and that has the power to change things. 

Though the crowd that turned out Monday was largely members of the Adcraft Club of Detroit, a select few tickets were available at the door for others. One of those was Detroit's Michael Lesich, the president of Excellis Custom Software Solutions in Roseville.

The political rush from the past few weeks — from the candidates' appearances to the television ads — has been nothing short of a fast-moving hurricane, he said.

"It's amazing," he said. "It comes in like a hurricane and leaves just as quickly."

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