Today, voters in Arizona and Michigan go to the polls to pick their favorite candidate in the ongoing Republican primary season. The two frontrunners, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, are essentially neck-and-neck at the national level going into today’s primaries, but voters in these two states could be setting the stage for next week’s Super Tuesday contests, and determining how long the battle for the nomination will go on.
Romney was raised in Michigan - where his father was a three-term governor - and his campaign has faced a surge from Santorum over the last several weeks. The latest polls for the two leading presidential hopefuls are split in Michigan, with each candidate holding between roughly 35 and 38 percent; Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are polling behind, each hovering just below ten percent. Losing his home state to the former Senator from Pennsylvania could be a decisive blow to Romney’s campaign. And even if he does win, the margin of victory could be an important indicator of Romney’s viability, especially among more conservative GOP voters. In Arizona, Mitt Romney is holding onto a double digit lead over Rick Santorum in the aftermath of last week’s debate in Mesa, with Gingrich and Paul each polling at least ten points behind the Santorum. Republican sentiment for the former governor of Massachusetts has been tepid at times, yet he has soldiered on as the polls have seen the rise and eventual fall of several challengers as conservatives try to decide which candidate best represents the soul of the Republican Party.
Is Santorum too conservative to face President Obama in a general election? Is Romney not conservative enough to win over die hard Republicans? How can the candidate who wins Michigan or Arizona carry his momentum into Super Tuesday?
Lisa Lerer, political reporter for Bloomberg
Mark Brodie, government and politics reporter for KJZZ, NPR’s affiliate in Phoenix, Arizona