Mitt Romney’s victories in Michigan and Arizona Tuesday could swing momentum in his favor heading into Super Tuesday next week.
Romney defeated Rick Santorum by 41 to 38 percent in a heavily contested Michigan race with 95 percent of precincts reporting. Although the win is a necessary boost for the campaign in the wake of Santorum’s three straight victories in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, it does not solidify Romney’s position as the Republican frontrunner, said Pope McCorkle, visiting lecturer at the Sanford School of Public Policy. A strong performance in the 10 primaries Tuesday will put him on stronger footing to win the nomination.
“It’s a victory that will allow him to keep talking about his frontrunner status,” McCorkle said. “[Romney] is going to have to do well next week before he can establish himself as the frontrunner.”
In his victory speech, Romney acknowledged a slight edge against Santorum in the race.
“We didn’t win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that’s all that counts,” Romney said. “A week ago, the pundits and pollsters were ready to count us out.... [but] I was confident that we would come together today and take a giant step toward a brighter future.”
Romney is a Michigan native and the son of former Michigan governor George Romney. Despite his ties, Romney faced a strong challenge from Santorum, who had a stronger appeal among many Michigan conservatives, said David Rohde, Ernestine Friedl professor of political science. Although many voters, including conservative Republicans, believe Romney stands a better chance of beating President Barack Obama, his narrow victory against Santorum weakens the electability argument.
“We came into the backyard of one of my opponents in race where people said, ‘You know, just ignore it, you’re going to have no chance here,’” Santorum said. “The people of Michigan looked into the hearts of candidates and all I have to say is ‘I love you back.’”
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas and Medicine ’61, finished third in Michigan with 12 percent of the vote and Newt Gingrich finished last with 7 percent.
Romney had a more decisive victory in Arizona, winning 47 percent of the primary vote with 81 percent of precincts reporting. Santorum came in second with 27 percent. According to CNN exit polls, Romney, a Mormon, received 93 percent of the Mormon vote, which may have helped him gain all 29 delegates in the winner-take-all state.
Although these are important victories for Romney, his opponents are not likely to drop out of the race until the Republican National Convention in August, said junior Chloe Rockow, chair of Duke College Republicans.
As a consequence, the battle for the Republican nomination will remain contentious, McCorkle noted.
“It looks like it will be long trench warfare,” McCorkle said. “[Romney is] not going to get a fast knockout.”
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Junior Will Reach, former chair of DCR, said he is confident that Romney’s victories in Michigan and Arizona clinched the presidential nomination for the former Massachusetts governor.
“Romney’s performance in Arizona and Michigan is a net positive for the Republican Party and for his campaign because the results show stabilizing preferences among the electorate,” Reach said. “Overall, the Republican Party is coming to the conclusion that Romney will be their main man come November.”
Romney is better positioned to compete with Obama for independent voters as compared to Santorum, Reach added.