Mitt Romney “fought back a vigorous challenge from Rick Santorum in Michigan on Tuesday, narrowly carrying his native state, and won the Arizona primary in a pair of contests that reasserted his control over the Republican presidential race as it advances to critical Super Tuesday contests next week,” the New York Times reports.
“His victory over Mr. Santorum here in Michigan was far from commanding, but it was most likely sufficient to dampen the rising clamor from across the Republican Party about his ability to win over conservatives and connect with voters. The tussle with Mr. Santorum highlighted ample concerns about Mr. Romney, but his win spared his campaign from deep turmoil.”
[W]hat, if anything, could convince Romney to drop out? If he underperforms on Super Tuesday, would that do it? What about the primaries after that? I find myself wondering more and more why he’s so determined to win when he receives so much negative feedback at every turn. He has few passionate supporters and many passionate detractors; he has no big cause or grand issue that animates him; his victories are owed chiefly to carpet-bombing his rivals with negative ads rather than stirring up enthusiasm for his candidacy. It’s almost a test of wills with the base, or some sort of exceptionally complex organizational problem he’s determined to solve. Is Mitt so skillful a manager that he can propel a candidacy built on virtually nothing to the Republican nomination despite resolute opposition from activists?
Alex Altman looks to Super Tuesday:
There’s a week for the winds to shift, but the Super Tuesday forecast is mixed for each of the candidates. Romney will be heavily favored in Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia, where only he and Paul are on the ballot, thanks to the organizational deficits of their rivals. But polls show Santorum with large leads in Tennessee, Oklahoma and the key bellwether of Ohio. Meanwhile, Gingrich has grabbed a big lead in Georgia, the biggest delegate prize of the night and the state where he served in Congress. A Super Tuesday split would ensure that the bruising Republican nominating fight proceeds indefinitely.
“Many GOP insiders find it hard to envision anyone else winning the nomination. But he continues to underwhelm, and campaign reporters can search for days without finding a voter truly passionate about Romney…Veteran Republican strategist Terry Holt said Romney clearly has work to do but has proven again that he ‘rises to the occasion when he has to.’ He said Romney can win the loyalty of hard-core conservatives as long as he shows them respect and ‘gives voice to the anger and frustration they feel.'”
“After months and months of campaigning, Mitt Romney is finally sounding like a conservative. It took the strong challenge by Rick Santorum in Romney’s home state of Michigan to produce this transformation. But it worked as Romney overcame a double-digit Santorum lead to win yesterday’s Michigan primary. To fight off Santorum, Romney unveiled a supply-side tax plan to cut income tax rates 20 percent across the board. He also proposed reforming Medicare in a way similar to that of House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, the top Republican thinker on domestic policy. And when Romney spoke at a rally after his Michigan victory, he downgraded the pitch that used to dominate his campaign appearances – his experience in business, with the 2002 winter Olympics, and as governor of Massachusetts. That was relegated to the tail end of his speech. Instead he stressed a new slogan: ‘More jobs, less debt, smaller government.'”
Jonathan Bernstein thinks Romney wrapped up the nomination in either South Carolina or Florida.
“But, winning is winning. And when Romney needed to win — a loss in Michigan would have crippled his campaign beyond repair (or close to it) — he did. “
“In the end, both men weakened themselves. Romney underscored his fundamental vulnerability: He struggled to win party stalwarts in a head-to head fight despite superior finances, a vast organizational advantage, and local roots. Santorum’s opposition to everything from college to contraception frightened Republicans who think his values-laden and ideologically strident tone would not only cost him the presidential election but hurt House and Senate Republican candidates, too.”
“Between his verbal miscues and his clumsy attempts to defend his right flank on policy, the likely Republican nominee is suddenly headed for the kind of political and ideological cul-de-sac that losing presidential candidates often end up occupying. Thanks to the voters of Michigan, Romney’s path to the nomination is as wide open as ever. But his path to the White House has narrowed considerably.”
Jim Geraghty does some delegate math:
[W]hile the storyline may very well be a tough defeat or too-close-for-comfort win for Mitt Romney – at this moment, he leads, 41 percent to 39 percent with 19 percent of precincts reporting – he will end the night with about 43 delegates, and Santorum will probably get, best case scenario, 16 delegates.
A win is a win. Santorum blew a huge opportunity. The outcome in Ohio will now determine how long the race goes. Gingrich remains a wild card in Georgia and Oklahoma. Ron Paul is now seen as a Romney surrogate.
Joe Klein takes stock of Romney’s long slog:
Even if Romney wins Michigan, he doesn’t gain all that much (if he loses, it’s panic city). If Romney wins, his momentum won’t last long. Next week, the Super Tuesday results are likely to splinter–with Romney winning his New England and Mormon West turf, Gingrich winning Georgia and Santorum looking strong in Ohio and much of the rest of the south and southwest.
Rich Lowry thinks Romney dodged a bullet:
Romney “should now avoid the consequences of a Michigan loss: the desperate pleas for another candidate to get in the race, a major downdraft in fundraising and intense pressure for a campaign shakeup. Otherwise, he is slouching toward Tampa in what still projects as a drawn-out slog for delegates… For now, Mitt Romney is experiencing the thrill of a bullet having barely missed.”
Noah Millman sizes up all the contests in March:
Even after winning Michigan, Romney could still wind up running a brutal gauntlet in March, and looking a lot more like a loser than a winner at the end. But even in that realistic-worst-case, he’ll still be well ahead in delegates. And he’ll still be the only one with a plausible path to the nomination. And after California, New Jersey and Utah vote, he’ll have it. Assuming he still even wants it by then.
Markos Moulitsas claims credit for at least keeping Romney low to the ground:
The combined anti-Romney air barrage from the Obama campaign, its Super PAC, and MoveOn kept Romney from running away with Michigan, and made it close enough that crossover voting—prodded by the Michigan Democratic Party, Michael Moore, various local unions, and us—might deliver Santorum the victory.
“By winning in Michigan and cruising in Arizona, the establishment darling has reasserted his status as the Republican favorite. It may be a slower and messier process than Romney and his aides would prefer, but the former Massachusetts governor still looks on track to eventually capture the GOP nomination.”
“Four years ago with Democrats, the tension in that race was which of two historic candidates the Democratic party voters all liked. who were they going to put forward in the general election contest? They liked both of them. They would have been happy with both of them. The longer this goes on, Republican voters are saying, ‘We don’t like any of them, we want somebody new in the race.’ And that new person isn’t going to appear in the race.”
“What [Romney’s performance] tonight has done, I think, is kill any talk in Republican circles of finding another white knight to come into the campaign.”