By Katie Burke and Andrew Schulman
February 28, 2012
After weeks of back and forth campaigning, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney claimed a slight victory over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the Michigan presidential primary Tuesday night.
Romney, who was raised in Bloomfield Hills in the 1960s while his father served as the state’s governor, won the primary in his home state with about 41 percent of the vote over Santorum’s 38 percent.
The victory — a rebound for Romney after three losses to Santorum in the Colorado, Missouri and Missouri primary elections earlier this month — could re-energize Romney’s campaign looking forward to Super Tuesday on March 6, the former Massachusetts governor said in a speech to supporters after announcing his victory.
“We didn’t win by a lot, but we won by enough and that’s all that counts,” Romney said in the speech in Novi.
Once his victory was announced, Romney delivered a speech outlining his plans of contesting President Barack Obama in the general election.
“If there is one thing we cannot afford, it is four years of Barack Obama with nothing to answer to,” Romney said in his speech.
Romney said he would strive for a more limited government with lower taxes and increased job creation.
“I am offering a real choice and a new direction. I have a plan that will restore America’s promise through more jobs, less debt and smaller government,” Romney said in his speech.
Donald Grimes, senior research associate and economist at the Institute for Research, Labor, Employment and the Economy, said Romney’s win in Michigan will provide a surge of momentum going into the Super Tuesday primary elections on March 6.
“It is a significant boost for the Romney campaign,” Grimes said. “Now he will go into Super Tuesday … with some leverage to withstand some potential defeats next week.”
With such close elections, the question leading into next Tuesday’s contests in 10 states is whether or not the Republican field will narrow, Grimes said, adding that Santorum’s strong showing in Michigan solidifies his place as the alternative candidate.
Michael Heaney, assistant professor of organizational studies and political science, said Santorum’s close second place finish in Michigan shows the improvements he’s made in the polls
“Given that this was (Romney’s) native state, the expectation was that he would have a fairly big win here, and the fact that Santorum was able to challenge him … shows that the Santorum campaign still has strength,” Heaney said.
Though Romney has struggled with support from grassroots conservatives, Heaney said he thinks the candidate has the potential to compete with Obama in the general election.
Turnout for the election in Ann Arbor was about 8 percent, according to City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry. Beaudry called the turnout “pretty low” but said the elections in the city otherwise went smoothly.
At the Michigan Union, where voters from precincts 1 and 2 of Ward 2 cast their ballots, 17 voters turned out, according to election data. At the Michigan League, where voters from precincts 1 and 2 of Ward 3 voted, voters cast a total of 39 ballots.
Overall turnout in Washtenaw County was 11.82 percent, the data showed. Nearly 42 percent of Washtenaw County voters chose Romney, while more than 37 percent voted for Santorum.
LSA sophomore Alexandra Brill, newly-elected chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said the low voter turnout and tight race showed the lack of unity in the Republican Party.
“The Republicans aren’t united around any specific candidate which means that (Democrats) will have a much easier time because we are already united behind Barack Obama,” Brill said.
While LSA junior Brian Koziara, external vice chair of the College Republicans, said the win for Romney was “not a resounding victory,” he said the results reestablished the Michigan native as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
“It shows that he was resilient,” Koziara said. “He was once again the comeback kid. He has the campaign organization and the staff and the resources to continue fighting this fight, and he has once again asserted himself as the frontrunner.”
Koziara added that Santorum’s loss is a major setback, particularly in light of his recent momentum and the fact that he urged Democrats in Michigan to vote for him, which Koziara said would be detrimental from the perspective of the Republican electorate.
Still, he said Romney might not be able to clinch the Republican nomination unless he gains at least half the electoral votes at stake on Super Tuesday, when voters in 10 states will cast their ballots. He predicted that Gingrich might win a few states in the South on Super Tuesday, as would Santorum, but that Romney would ultimately benefit from the division of votes among Santorum and Gingrich and either win a majority of the electorate or do well enough to use his strong campaign infrastructure and party support to wear down his rivals moving forward.