The Michigan primary was a nail-biter right down to the final hours. It was held to be a crucial state for Mitt Romney, given his long history there, and his father’s well-regarded tenure as governor in the 1960s. Back in the days of yore, when it took a wide-angle lens to photograph all the Republican presidential nominees when they came together on stage, Romney was the undisputed front-runner. But things happened, Rick Santorum surged, and suddenly Michigan was in play.
And then Santorum was ahead, at least until a somewhat uncomfortable debate performance in Arizona stalled his momentum, and Michigan became a tie once more. It became difficult to find a poll that showed either Romney or Santorum jumping outside the margin of error. By Tuesday morning, political seers were struggling to detect which man’s sails were ruffled by the very faint breeze of momentum.
Some of that breeze was blowing from the port side, as Democrats organized an effort to prolong the Republican primary struggle, or at least make Mitt Romney look bad, by supporting Santorum. The Santorum campaign energetically courted these crossover votes. Romney cried foul, and spoke of “dirty tricks.” Santorum said it was all part of his strategy to appeal to blue-collar Democrats while remaining conservative, and he welcomed their votes.
The Romney campaign surely did not relish the notion of spending the next week explaining how their man lost his home state. Romney’s path forward lay through uncertain terrain on Super Tuesday, March 6th. Newt Gingrich looks strong in his home state of Georgia, while Santorum has built sizable leads in Ohio, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Romney can bank on Virginia (where only he and Ron Paul qualified for the ballot) and of course Massachusetts, where he was once governor. With Arizona leaning toward Romney by a double-digit margin, the story coming out of Michigan on Tuesday night was likely to be the one that could change the Super Tuesday picture.
While a long night was anticipated by some, Romney jumped out to a 3-point lead fairly early, holding a steady lead of about 10,000 voters. The state was called for Romney shortly after 10:00 PM Eastern time. Exit polls showed him doing significantly better with women than Santorum, which was expected, but Santorum also appeared to be losing Catholics, which was somewhat surprising.
Santorum won big with union households, but interestingly, the Fox News exit poll found a 7-point lead for Romney in households where someone has lost a job or been laid off during the past three years. Voters consistently report the economy is their Number One issue, and those Michigan voters with good reason to be concerned about the employment picture seemed to favor Romney. Santorum was an enormous favorite with those who identified abortion as their most important issue.
Some interesting anomalies in that Fox exit poll: Santorum had a huge lead with those who considered themselves “very conservative,” but Romney had an even bigger lead with those who said they were “somewhat conservative,” and they were fairly well-matched with moderates and liberals. Santorum led among both those who strongly support the Tea Party… and those who strongly oppose it.
Here’s Romney’s victory speech, courtesy of CNN. He overplays the “underdog” card a bit – were any “pundits and pollsters” really “counting him out” in Michigan? – but then he auditions for the general election with a strong critique of the Obama presidency. “Four years ago, we warned that the presidency was no place for on-the-job training. Today, we have an economy to prove it.”
Update: I haven’t been able to find an embeddable video of Santorum’s concession, but you can follow this link to watch it at The Hill. Santorum also focused his remarks on Obama, with an emphasis on energy policy and unemployment.
Update: Interesting that as the midnight hour approaches, Santorum is actually ahead in more districts, 7 to Romney’s 4. There’s no doubt that Romney carried the state, but Michigan awards 2 delegates per district, plus a bonus of 2 delegates for the winner of the primary. If these numbers hold, Santorum could wind up with more delegates.
Update: Checking the final results this morning, it looks like Santorum and Romney ended up tied for delegates, with 11 apiece. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul did not win any delegates.