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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney regained frontrunner status in the tangled race for the Republican nomination for President Tuesday with wins in the Michigan and Arizona primaries.
But the wins — while significant — still show Romney has a long fight ahead in his pursuit of the nomination.
His win in Michigan — his self-declared “home” state — was a narrow one, just three percentage points over former Senator Rick Santorum while he scored a more impressive victory of 20 percentage points in Arizona.
The remaining two contenders — former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul — traded the race for last place in the double-header: In Arizona, Gingrich came in third with 16 percent with Paul last with eight and in Michigan Paul captured third with 12 percent with Gingrich bringing up the rear with seven percent.
For Romney — trailing in the polls by as much as 15 percent just 10 days ago — the win in Michigan was important.
“Yes, it was close but Michigan may be a turning point for Romney,” GOP strategist Anne Williams told Capitol Hill Blue. “He turned it around when it counted.”
“We didn’t win by a lot, but we won by enough,” Romney said after his Michigan win.
Santorum, in losing, delivered a rambling 40-minute monologue that failed to deliver any centralized message.
“They didn’t know who were were a month ago but now they do,” Santorum said at one point.
Exit polls showed economic issues and an ability to beat President Barack Obama drove voter concerns. Social issues — Santorum’s breat and butter — took a back seat.
Reported Alan Fram and Jennifer Agiesta of The Associated Press:
Mitt Romney drew strength from Republican loyalists and all but the most conservative voters on Tuesday to claim victory in a grueling GOP presidential primary in his native state of Michigan, an exit poll of voters showed.
Rick Santorum was bolstered by the most ardent conservatives and people whose political views are strongly colored by their religious beliefs, the survey showed. But with Michigan viewed as a solid opportunity for the former Pennsylvania senator to weaken Romney’s candidacy, Santorum failed to win more than a modest margin among blue-collar voters — those without college degrees — despite wooing them with populist, made-in-America fervor and his grandfather’s coal miner roots.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, also cruised to an easy victory in Arizona’s GOP presidential contest by winning across nearly all categories of age, income, education and ideology, exit poll results showed there.
In both states, the economy was the dominant issue on voters’ minds, as it has been in every state to vote so far. And as he has in every state where voters have been surveyed but South Carolina, Romney triumphed decisively among people who named the economy as their chief concern.
Santorum hurt his chances with a series of gaffes leading up to the primaries, including using robo calls to try and lure Democrats to vote for him.
GOP strategist Curt Anderson calls Santorum “badly wounded” after the twin losses Tuesday.
The losses also raise questions about the long-term prospects for Gingrich, who has failed to translate his upset win in South Carolina earlier this year into momentum. Gingrich now must pin his campaign future on Georgia in next week’s Super Tuesday primaries.
Romney also faces a test next Tuesday in Ohio. He should win in Massachusetts, Vermont, Idaho and Virginia but Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota could go for Santorum.
“Super Tuesday could be the clincher,” Williams says. “Or it could continue the chaos.”