Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney can breathe a hard-earned sigh of relief after Tuesday night’s two hard-earned primary victories in Arizona and Michigan.
Romney won in Arizona’s winner-take-all primary by a landslide, beating his strongest opponent, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, by a two-to-one margin.
Despite that, he just narrowly eked out a victory in his home state of Michigan, where he trounced Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008. Romney, terrified at the prospect of losing his home state, fired a barrage of last minute television advertisements at the Michigan electorate. Romney’s campaign, along with a pro-Romney super PAC called “Restore Our Future,” poured $3.12 million into the state. Michigan’s delegates are divided proportionally, so Romney could end up with only a few more delegates than Santorum.
Nationally, according to the latest Gallup poll, Romney still leads his Republican rivals with 31 percent of the primary voters supporting him, a number that has remained largely unchanged despite ten months of campaigning, five caucuses, six primaries, twenty televised debates, $30 million in television advertisements and the elimination of eight campaign competitors.
The Romney campaign had set its sights on the early primary states. Romney wanted to enter Super Tuesday with a litany of early primary victories under his belt and lockup the nomination by April. However, this plan failed miserably. The campaign has failed to break the anti-Mitt polling ceiling, which has hovered at around 30 percent throughout the entire campaign season.
Romney’s aristocratic demeanor and his wooden social skills have hindered his ability to connect with the party’s working class, Evangelical base. Santorum’s blue-collar roots and social conservatism played a key role in his strong second place finish in Michigan. He fared better among lower income, non-college educated voters. This pattern has played out not just in Michigan, but in Colorado and Minnesota as well.
As Super Tuesday draws near, the Republican race remains largely unchanged from where it was before these primaries. Super Tuesday is unlikely to resolve the race as most of the winner-take-all contests are still set for early spring.
After Tuesday’s victories, the Romney campaign can move beyond its successful attempt to stave off a humiliating defeat in his home state. He can focus his attention elsewhere and return to the task of persuading skeptical base voters that he is the only candidate that can defeat Barack Obama.