Michigan is poised to be a key moment in the Republican leadership contest as voters prepare to cast their ballots tomorrow, and new polls indicate that the contest is a virtual tie between Republican party nominee hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
No one could have predicted a month ago that a state where Mr. Romney was born and raised, and a state he easily carried in his 2008 bid to become the Republican party nominee, would be so hotly contested in 2012.
And yet a dead-heat with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is a much better place to be than two weeks ago, when polls showed Mr. Romney facing a humiliating defeat in his home state.
Mr. Romney’s strong lead in Michigan eroded after the mid-February Santorum surge that followed Santorum campaign wins the Midwest states of Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.
But the story over the last two weeks has been a sustained attempt by the Romney campaign to win back Michiganders, reminding them of the Romney connection, and attacking Mr. Santorum on the campaign trail over the airwaves and on the debate stage.
The result: a dramatic tightening of the race, and the real possibility that the Romney team might be able to eke out a win in Michigan, a state that has taken on outsized importance and will set the tone for the next stage of the race.
The Democratic Party-affiliated robo-call firm Public Policy Polling (PPP), released its latest findings late Sunday night showing that Mr. Romney was now leading with 39 per cent of support of likely Republican voters compared to Mr. Santorum, who has 37 per cent support. In polling terms, taking into account the margin of error, the result is a virtual tie.
Exactly a week ago, a poll by the same firm showed Mr. Santorum’s 15-point lead had eroded dramatically, but that he was still leading Mr. Romney with 37 per cent to 33 per cent support.
Both the Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich campaigns are trailing the two front-runners in Michigan, with 13 per cent and 9 per cent support, respectively.
The latest poll is by no means the final word on how Republican voters are feeling on the eve of the Michigan vote. In fact, another poll showed Mr. Santorum slightly ahead of Mr. Romney, with 37 per cent support to 35 per cent. Again, with the margin of error, not a significant lead at all.
A closer look at the latest PPP poll, however, does show that 16 per cent of Michigan voters have already voted in advance polling, and the vast majority of them voted for Mr. Romney. That head-start will help the Romney campaign because, among those who will be voting on Tuesday, Mr. Santorum actually leads Mr. Romney 39 per cent to 34 per cent, according to PPP.
“One place Santorum may have hurt himself in the last week is an overemphasis on social issues. 69 per cent of voters say they’re generally more concerned with economic issues this year to only 17 per cent who pick social issues,” the polling firm explains.
“And with the overwhelming majority of voters more concerned about the economy, Romney leads Santorum 45-30. Santorum is winning those more concerned about social issues 79-12 but it’s just not that big a piece of the pie,” PPP says.
The other primary on Tuesday will take place in Arizona, which is a winner-take-all state in terms of delegates. There, Mr. Romney has a comfortable lead over Mr. Santorum.
The Michigan primary will allocate delegates on a winner-take-all by Congressional district basis – a system that gives the Santorum campaign hope of scooping up delegates in social conservative areas among Michigan's 14 Congressional districts, although not as many delegates if the state was winner-take-all and Mr. Santorum were to emerge the state-wide popular vote winner on Tuesday night.
After the Tuesday night primaries, Mr. Romney would remain the over leader in terms of total delegates. The current delegate total: Romney, 99 delegates; Santorum, 47 delegates; Gingrich, 32 delegates; Paul, 27 delegates.
Thirty delegates are at stake in the Michigan primary and 29 delegates in Arizona.
After the Michigan and Arizona contests, the Super Tuesday contests on March 6th, in which 10 states hold primaries or caucuses with 437 delegates at stake, will likely have a far greater impact in shaping the trajectory of the Republican leadership contest.
Put another way: more delegates are at stake on a single day, March 6th, than the total delegates in the contests that started on January 3rd with the Iowa caucuses and continue through Michigan and Arizona.
But no one is expecting that any candidate will reach the required 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination any time soon.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, the subject of much talk as a late entry in to the GOP race, has talked about the likelihood of the leadership contest going all the way to the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay in August.
“It is not impossible that no one gets there [Tampa Bay]with the thing locked up,” he told reporters earlier this month.
Over the weekend, he suggested that the Indiana primary, which is scheduled for early May, is actually going to be a real contest.
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