Romney gains momentum from Michigan – but can it carry him through Super Tuesday?

Republican frontrunner concentrates on economy ahead of next week's crucial votes in 10 states
  • @dusborne

After his slim victory in his native state of Michigan, Mitt Romney sped to Ohio yesterday, where he faces another battle on "Super Tuesday" in five days' time.

"It's a little chilly in here, but it's warm in our hearts," Mr Romney told a sparse group of supporters at a steel manufacturing company in Toledo, Ohio. He was perhaps referring to his improved state of mind after his wins in Michigan and, more convincingly, Arizona on Tuesday night – as much as his affection for the people of Ohio.

Although he eluded calamity in Michigan by finishing three points ahead of his socially conservative rival Rick Santorum, the pressure is by no means off Mr Romney, who knows that big wins in the past, for example in Florida and Nevada, did not give him the boost he had expected.

But big questions hover over Mr Santorum, who watched an early lead in Michigan slip away as he made a series of mistakes – including his observation that Barack Obama was a "snob" for wanting a college education for all, and his excoriation of John F Kennedy for advocating the separation of church and state, which alienated Catholic voters.

It will be a day or two before we will see how the polls in Super Tuesday states are affected by Tuesday's results. Will these have dimmed the lights for what has always been a somewhat quixotic bid by Mr Santorum for the Republican nomination? Or, as has happened in the past, will suspicions among conservatives about Mr Romney prevent his campaign from catching fire?

The exit polling in Michigan again showed a party deeply divided. Mr Romney outpaced his main opponent by four to one among voters who said they wanted a candidate with the ability to defeat Mr Obama in November. Mr Santorum had roughly the same edge among those who wanted a "true conservative" with strong moral character to win.

After pouring resources into Michigan, Mr Romney will now be forced to do the same ahead of Super Tuesday and the majority will go to Ohio, a crown jewel state with a large trove of delegates for the nomination. It is a bell-weather also for the national election; no Republican has won the White House without first winning Ohio.

He may lose as many as four of the 10 Super Tuesday states. Newt Gingrich is staking his all on taking his home state of Georgia to stay in contention and Mr Santorum is polling well in Tennessee and Oklahoma. And in Ohio things are looking dicey. A new Cincinnati University poll there gives Mr Santorum an impressive 11-point lead.

Mr Romney signalled yesterday that he intends to focus exclusively on economic issues in the state, unveiling a sort of Super-Tuesday mantra: "More jobs! Less Debt! Smaller government!" We can expect Mr Santorum, who campaigned last night in Tennessee, similarly to avoid further detours into social issues and stay on the economy.

Even if Mr Romney can, at last, get his campaign running on all cylinders, he is dealing with three rivals who seem determined to keep competing all the way to the national convention, making it hard for him to assemble the 1,144 delegates needed to claim the nomination. Even his Michigan win was tempered by a system that means he may have to share delegates from there with Mr Santorum.

Primaries in figures

52% Of those with a college degree voted for Romney in Arizona, compared with 25 per cent for Santorum.

3.5% Percentage more votes Romney gained in Michigan than Santorum.

43% Of Tea Party supporters in Arizona voted for Romney, while 31 per cent voted for Santorum.