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A dozen contests, hundreds of delegates, and a Republican race as topsy-turvy as ever

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign stop at the Christ Redeemer Church, Feb. 19, 2012, in Cumming, Georgia.

Eric Gay/AP/Eric Gay/AP

The Republican leadership race is about to enter a two-week frenzy that will culminate in Super Tuesday on March 6th when voters in 10 different states choose a candidate.

Even as GOP rivals vie to be seen as the momentum candidate, the over-arching story line two weeks from now will likely be the same: a Republican leadership race that will take a winding, and no doubt up and down, road to the national convention in Tampa Bay in August, as candidates try to amass the needed 1,144 delegates before the last state contests in June.

Mitt Romney leads the delegate count but his rivals are eyeing the upcoming contests to narrow the delegate gap.

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First up are the Arizona and Michigan primaries next Tuesday.

February was meant to favour former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and his massive political machine and campaign war chest.

But it was former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum who ended up the momentum candidate with Midwest wins in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.

Mr. Romney can still round-off the month with victories in Arizona and Michigan – the state where he was born and raised and which is synonymous with the Romney name.

A number of polls last week indicated a Santorum surge and suggested that Michigan's native son was facing a humiliating defeat in the state where his father was governor in the 1960s.

But in another sign of the topsy-turvy nature of this Republican leadership race, a new poll now indicates that, a week before the key Michigan primary contest, the gap between the two is narrowing in Michigan.

The Democratic party-affiliated polling firm Public Policy Polling released its Michigan polling Monday night with Mr. Santorum getting 37 per cent of support against Mr. Romney's 33 per cent. This is a dramatic shift form last week when Mr. Santorum was leading by 15 per cent.

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The national polls of likely Republican voters show another dramatic shift – but this time in the direction of Mr. Santorum.

Just a week ago a slew of national polls showed Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum in a virtual dead-heat. But a new Gallup poll now indicates that Mr. Santorum has opened up a 10-point lead, with 36 per cent support versus 26 per cent for Mr. Romney.

With Michigan now a toss-up between the Romney and Santorum campaigns and the national trend in the direction of Mr. Santorum, this ought to spell further trouble for Mr. Romney and his ability to rally conservatives around his candidacy.

Not entirely.

National polls of Republican voters have thrown up others in the past. Remember Newt Gingrich? He led national polls among likely Republican voters at several stages.

There is no doubt that some voters are deeply dissatisfied with Mr. Romney's ideological credentials and question whether he is a true conservative.

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But push Republican voters to make a choice about which candidate is most electable in a contest against President Barack Obama, the choice is clear: Mr. Romney is seen by most Republicans as most the electable.

A new poll this week suggests that on electability, Mr. Romney beats Mr. Santorum 2 to 1. In fact, most believe Mr. Romney will eventually emerge as the nominee.

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