Arizona primary preview: Five reasons Romney is the front-runner

According to the RealClearPolitics average of Arizona polls, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a 10.7 point lead, with an average of 39.5 percent of support, compared to 28.8 percent for former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, 16.3 percent for former House speaker Newt Gingrich, and 8.3 percent for Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Here are five reasons why Romney is in the driver’s seat going into Tuesday’s winner-take-all Arizona primary.

1. Early voting

As has been the case in many of the states that have voted so far, the enthusiasm for this field of GOP candidates is low in Arizona. If turnout is severely depressed, Santorum could gain have an advantage, as he had in other states, such as Minnesota and Colorado, where turnout was low.

Yet, just like in Florida, Romney’s organizational strength in turning out the early vote may offset any disadvantages he may get from a lower-than-expected turnout. According to state officials, nearly a quarter of registered Republicans have already cast their ballots. And since many most likely voted before Santorum started to pick up momentum nationally, Romney probably has many of those votes banked.

2. Demographics

Another built-in advantage Romney has is Arizona’s Mormon population. In 2008, Mormons constituted roughly 10 percent of the Republican primary electorate and 90 percent of Mormons voted for Romney. These numbers will give Romney roughly another 10-point advantage at the polls.

3. Romney’s conservative positioning on immigration

If Romney could have been challenged on the right in the primary, it would have been on immigration. But Romney has positioned himself to the right of candidates such as Gingrich on immigration, which allowed him to protect his right flank in Arizona. Arizona, after it passed its immigration law, S.B. 1070, became front and center in the immigration debate, and immigration is one of those hot-button issues that could galvanize and swing large numbers of conservative voters quickly. If Romney had been weaker on the immigration issue, he could have been in a much more tenuous position going into the primary

4. Jan Brewer’s endorsement

Arizona’s governor endorsed Romney on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday.

“I think he is the man that can carry the day,” Brewer said on NBC in endorsing Romney.

And while Brewer was not enthusiastically supported by conservatives before she signed S.B. 1070 into law, her endorsement helps Romney among some conservatives in the state and most likely prevents a last minute surge for a non-Romney candidate.

5. Lack of  campaign activity in Arizona

Arizona is a winner-take-all state, and the lack of campaigning by other candidates this past week has been telling. Since candidates will not receive delegates proportionally, it would be foolish for a campaign to waste resources in a state if the campaign did not feel it could win. The lack of campaign activity in Arizona shows that the other candidates most likely see the writing on the wall and decided to spend their scarce resources in other states.