It’s not over yet.
Mitt Romney narrowly defeated Rick Santorum in Michigan on Tuesday night and easily won the primary in Arizona, re-establishing his status as the Republican front-runner with two wins.
But the Republican primary race is far from settled. Ten states will vote next Tuesday in a virtual nationwide primary, including places like Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio and Tennessee, where Santorum and Newt Gingrich could appeal to sizable populations of Tea Party Republicans and evangelical Christians who have been hostile to Romney throughout the primary process.
And the results illustrated the challenges Romney still faces in consolidating the party’s nomination. In Michigan, according to exit polls, Santorum won among voters who earn less than $100,000, those who describe themselves as “very conservative,” evangelical Christians, and voters who said abortion should be illegal, all sizable segments of the GOP electorate.
WATCH MITT ROMNEY’S VICTORY SPEECH HERE:
At the same time, the primary results suggested some of the most fiery anti-Obama rhetoric, such as Santorum dubbing the president a “snob” and accusing him of “phony theology,” may not be a winning argument to most Republicans. Romney won 61 percent to 23 percent among the third of GOP voters in Michigan who considered “Can Defeat Obama” their most important criterion for voting.
And a bloc of Democrats, who voted for Santorum in an tactical attempt to give him a victory that would hurt Romney, were unable to amass enough votes to make a difference.
“Obama will crush Santorum,” said Lonnie Scott, a Democrat and Obama backer who voted for Santorum in the primary.
While Romney is struggling through the nomination process, President Obama is sounding increasingly confident, as polls show his standing improving. In a speech Tuesday to autoworkers, he noted he would buy a Chevy Volt “four or five years from now, when I’m not president.” It was the second time in a week he has suggested he will win reelection.
Additional Reporting by Jay Scott Smith
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr