Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney won a pair of Republican primary victories Tuesday in Michigan and Arizona, fending off a challenge from former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and re-establishing himself as the frontrunner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.
Mitt Romney cruised to victory in Arizona and then held on for a narrow win in his home state of Michigan, defeating conservative challenger Rick Santorum.
“Thank you Arizona," said Romney. "Great victory in Arizona tonight and thank you Michigan! What a win! This is a big night! Thanks you guys!”
Romney grew up in Michigan and his father, George Romney, served as governor of the state in the 1960’s. A loss in Michigan would have been a major blow to Romney’s campaign.
Romney was trailing in the polls in Michigan two weeks ago but he steadily eroded Santorum’s lead with help from negative TV ads and a strong debate performance last week.
In his victory speech, Romney turned his sights on President Barack Obama.
“He is unresponsive to the will of our people and in a second term he would be unrestrained by the demands of re-election," he said. "If there is one thing we can’t afford it is
Although he lost in Michigan, Santorum hopes his strong showing there will help him next week when ten states hold voting contests on March 6th, also known as Super Tuesday.
Santorum told supporters that he remains committed to conservative principles and smaller government.
“It goes down to the very nature of who we are as Americans," said Santorum. "Are we a country that believes in big government? Do we believe in the smart and elite in this country to manage us? Or do we believe in free people and a free economy and building a great America from the bottom up? What do you say?”
Santorum kept the margin close in Michigan, with help from social conservative voters focused on issues like abortion, gay marriage and religion. As in other states, Romney continues to struggle to win support from conservative voters who are skeptical of his moderate political background as governor of Massachusetts.
Romney will take all 29 Republican delegates from Arizona since it has a winner take all primary. Romney and Santorum will both get a share of Michigan’s 30 delegates, based on their performances both statewide and in individual congressional districts. Romney's delegate total is now more than 100, but it takes 1144 delegates to secure the Republican nomination.
Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul finished well back in the voting in both Michigan and Arizona, but both men spent little time in those two states. They are focused instead on the contests next week.
Gingrich spoke to supporters in his home state of Georgia, which holds its primary next Tuesday.
“I do think this is the most important election in your lifetime," said Gingrich. "I hope each and every one of you will make sure you vote.”
Congressman Paul spoke to supporters in Virginia, which also votes next week. Paul repeated his vow to keep the U.S. out of foreign wars.
“This idea that we are so exceptional that we can use force and intimidation and bombs and spread our so-called goodness, it eliminates all our goodness if we believe that we have the authority to go overseas and tell people how to live. It doesn’t work," said Paul.
The most sought after state next week is likely to be Ohio, which has a large number of delegates at stake and where none of the four remaining contenders has a major advantage.
Most pundits say it is likely that the Republican race will continue well after next week’s Super Tuesday contests, perhaps all the way to the end of the primary and caucus schedule in June.