Mitt Romney dodges a potentially devastating bullet by holding off a late charge from Rick Santorum and winning Michigan by three percentage points. Romney won very impressively in Arizona (his best performance since New Hampshire), but it wouldn’t have mattered if he had let Michigan, the state in which he grew up and where his father was governor, slip away. Now he regains the momentum he lost three weeks ago when Santorum swept him in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses and the Missouri non-binding primary. That’s when Santorum began to jump out to a big lead in Michigan, even though he never overtook Romney in Arizona.
Romney then fought back hard, spending millions of dollars on attack ads against Santorum, and re-took the lead in Michigan, only to have Santorum come storming back over the last several days. Romney is once again the clear frontrunner as the race now speeds toward delegate-rich Super Tuesday. Romney has been the favorite all along in Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia (where only he and Ron Paul are on the ballot), and Idaho.
Now it will be interesting to see if he can use the momentum from his wins in Michigan and Arizona to steal some of the states where his rivals are currently leading, such as Washington, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Georgia. A win in one or more of those states could send him on an unstoppable roll toward the nomination. Failure to do so could set him back and guarantee a very long nomination battle.
Rick Santorum may feel the need to lick his wounds after his disappointing near miss in Michigan and drubbing in Arizona. His only consolation may be the fact that, in Michigan, he’s going to get almost as many delegates as (some have even projected more than) Romney. Santorum came charging out of his three wins on February 7 with new life and a full head of steam. But somewhere along the way he let much of that momentum get away from him, although he still has solid leads in the most recent polls of upcoming states such as Washington, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
A lot of his lost momentum was due to the millions of dollars Romney spent attacking him. However, much of it was self-inflicted, as he performed poorly in the month's only debate, allowing Romney to paint him as a big spending Washington insider. He also got away from the stuff that garnered him his wins three weeks ago, and started spending a little too much time discussing social issues. For that reason, he might want to recalibrate a bit heading into this weekend’s and next Tuesday’s big contests.
He now needs to stop the bleeding of momentum (and fast) before it causes his leads in the aforementioned states to erode. He especially needs to protect against Romney in Ohio. But too much time spent there could leave an opening for Newt Gingrich to retake Tennessee and Oklahoma, two states where Gingrich led a month ago. But if, over the next week, Santorum can hold on to the states where he is currently leading, he will be in a good position to challenge Romney for the nomination over the long haul.
Newt Gingrich finished last in Michigan and third in Arizona, but he really didn’t put forth much effort in either state. He’s been putting his focus on those states that will conduct their primaries on Super Tuesday and beyond. However, this is a risky strategy. He hasn’t performed well since his win in South Carolina on January 21. He followed that up with disappointing (and distant) second place finishes in Florida and Nevada. After that, he barely completed in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses on February 7, and didn’t make the ballot for the non-binding primary in Missouri held that same day.
Gingrich has been pretty much “out of circulation” while his chief rival for the anti-Romney mantle, Mr. Santorum, was winning all three of the February 7 contests and finishing well ahead of him in Michigan and Arizona. Gingrich has been building on his lead in the polls in Georgia, but recent polls from Tennessee and Oklahoma, the other two states he really needs to win on Super Tuesday, have not been so kind to him. However, Santorum's inability to pull it out in Michigan may give Gingrich the opening he needs in those states. In addition, he could really use a respectable finish in the Washington caucuses on Saturday. Needless to say, it’s crunch time for Gingrich and he has his work cut out for him. The fate of his campaign could well be decided over the next seven days.
Ron Paul finished third in Michigan and last in Arizona. Due to the fact that Arizona is a winner-take-all state, he didn’t compete at all there, as has become his practice. He only marginally competed in Michigan, basically just running some TV ads critical of Santorum. Look for him to compete heavily in Virginia, where he and Romney are the only two candidates on the primary ballot on Super Tuesday. Otherwise, he will mainly target caucus states over the coming weeks in an effort to mine as many convention delegates as possible.