A set of new polls from Public Policy Polling show both Michigan and Arizona have both closed to within the margin of error. Santorum has a slight lead in Michigan, while Romney is a little bit ahead in Arizona, but it seems fair to say that both are toss-ups at this point:
Michigan: Santorum 37, Romney 33, Paul 15, Gingrich 10
Arizona: Romney 36, Santorum 33, Gingrich 16, Paul 9
That leaves Santorum up by 4 in Michigan, and Romney ahead by 3 in Arizona, when both polls have 4-point margins of error.
Santorum was ahead by 15 points in the previous Michigan poll, but he only slipped by 2 points. The rest of the Romney surge came from other candidates, and the dwindling pool of undecided voters. Romney’s biggest problem has always been that he generates little enthusiasm among the base, but perhaps a few days of widely-published analysis that says Michigan could be his Waterloo has generated some much-needed enthusiasm for him, and brought some undecided voters off the fence.
Interestingly, PPP has Romney ahead with Catholics, 43-31. He’s done well enough with Catholics in the past, but it might be tough to hold a 12-point lead among them against Santorum.
Over in Arizona, two big shoes are waiting to drop: endorsements from Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Governor Jan Brewer. They both have considerable sway with Arizona voters, and could significantly change the numbers if they choose to make an endorsement.
Both Romney and Santorum would benefit tremendously from winning both states, and it’s probably bad news for Gingrich’s planned March comeback if both states are won by either of his competitors.
Looking ahead – actually, way ahead – the University of Texas and Texas Tribune have a new poll that shows Santorum with a stunning lead. He’s at 45 percent among Texas voters in this poll, with Gingrich, Romney, and Paul clustered well behind him at 18, 16, and 14 percent, respectively – and that’s despite Governor Rick Perry offering a strong endorsement for Newt Gingrich, after suspending his own presidential campaign.
The Texas primary was supposed to be on Super Tuesday, March 6, but it got hung up in a redistricting court battle, and can’t happen before May 29. It might not be held until June. With this new poll in mind, that looks like an incredibly lucky break for Romney and Gingrich. Texas is a huge prize, with 155 delegates at stake. Pushing the primary back to May or June prevents Santorum from throwing a haymaker punch. At best, the Santorum campaign can point to his strong current position in Texas as evidence that he’s got a decent chance of winning a long campaign, showing voters in other states that he’s got something to look forward to at the end of the primary season.