Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney got a boost for his presidential campaign with a one-two punch Tuesday night, winning Republican primaries in Arizona and his native state of Michigan.
The results in Arizona seemed a foregone conclusion by the time polls closed, with Romney winning about 47 percent of the vote. Former U.S. senator Rick Santorum finished a distant second in that state, followed by former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich and Congressman Ron Paul.
Michigan proved to be the much more tightly contested state of the evening, after seeing a barrage of name-calling and finger-pointing between Romney and Santorum in the final days leading up to the vote. Adding to the volatility of the Michigan contest were the efforts made by the Santorum campaign to openly court Democratic voters, a group eligible to vote in the GOP primary. In turn, at least some Democrats seemed to support Santorum as a means of undermining the Republican nominating process.
Claiming roughly 41 percent vote, Romney was the victor in Michigan, a state where his father once served as governor. Santorum was a close second at 38 percent, with Paul following at 12 percent and Gingrich last at just 7 percent.
Neither Paul nor Gingrich were in Michigan or Arizona Tuesday night. Instead, Paul was campaigning in Virginia and Gingrich was at a rally in his home state of Georgia, which holds its primary next week.
As the Washington Post reports, exit polls showed that Santorum did best with Michigan voters who describe themselves as “very conservative,” while Romney fared best with voters whose chief concern is defeating Democratic President Barack Obama in the fall.
While his win in Michigan may have been more important symbolically for Romney, his victory in Arizona may be practically more significant, given that the latter state will award him all of its 29 delegates, while Michigan’s delegate count will be allocated proportionally among the top finishers.
Both Romney and Santorum sounded optimistic in the wake of Tuesday’s results, with Santorum taking pride in the fact that he ran so closely against his chief rival in Romney’s “backyard.” For Romney, the twin wins could provide key momentum going into next week’s vital Super Tuesday when 10 states hold their primaries or caucuses and over 400 delegates will be up for grabs.