Romney takes Michigan and Arizona – but he can’t count on momentum for Super Tuesday

The ex-senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, lost to Mitt Romney in the Michigan primary by a margin that only three weeks ago would have been regarded as sensational. Unfortunately his getting within three points in Romney’s home state will be seen as a failure. For that he can blame the polls.

Only a fortnight ago one survey had Santorum fifteen points ahead, and this shaped the narrative that Romney could lose. Even in the final 24 hours of the campaign much of the polling was pointing to a possible Santorum victory.

As Nate Silver, the electoral and polling expert at the New York Times, observed, the late shift in the polls back toward Santorum “reset expectations about the race and made Mr. Romney’s victory seem more hard-earned”.

The Romney campaign won Michigan in the weeks leading up to the election by working very hard with the older age groups who are given special priority under the state’s electoral procedures to register for early votes.

This was further reflected in the exit polling. CNN found that the older voters were, the more likely it was that they would vote for Romney. With the 65+ group the ex-governor of Massachusetts had a 49%-33% lead.

One possible consolation prize for Santorum is that he might come away from Michigan with 15 delegates, the same as Romney. This will take some time to finalize because it is linked to congressional districts, which are changing in the state.

There was no such doubt with the other contest overnight in Arizona where the winner takes all of the 29 delegates. Mitt Romney’s victory by 20% over Santorum was better than any of the final polls.

On the face of it, then, Romney has all the momentum as he moves onto next week’s Super Tuesday battles, when ten states decide. One thing we have learned from the 2012 campaign, however, is that momentum counts for far less this year than in previous presidential elections.

For the somewhat deflated Santorum campaign there is a chance of pulling something back on Saturday with the caucuses in Washington State. Polling last week had him eleven points ahead, but that was taken before the candidates’ TV debate that Santorum was judged to have lost.

On Super Tuesday itself Santorum’s best hope lies in Ohio, which will be critical in November. Only yesterday a poll of the state was published which had him 11% ahead. Meanwhile Newt Gingrich looks set to have a big victory in his home state of Georgia.

By: Mike Smithson