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Politics

Mitt Romney wins Arizona, Michigan

Mitt RomneyMitt Romney scored two big primary victories Tuesday in Michigan, the state where he was born, and in Arizona, solidifying his claim to be the front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Romney led chief rival Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, by more than 30,000 votes with nearly all precincts counted from across Michigan. Two other candidates, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, put up little effort in Michigan and were running well behind the two leaders.

“We didn’t win by a lot but we won by enough, and that’s all that counts,” Romney told cheering supporters in Novi, Mich., referring to that state’s close outcome as “a great victory.”

Michigan was a must-win state for Romney, given his historic ties to the state. Although he is the former governor of Massachusetts and maintains a home in California, Michigan is where he grew up and where his late father was governor.

Santorum, in a speech delivered as news organizations were declaring Romney the winner, declared the results a boost for his candidacy nonetheless because of Romney’s advantages and personal ties in Michigan.

Heading into the voting, polls showed Michigan was too close to call, but Romney had a comfortable lead in Arizona polling.

Paul has not made a strong challenge in either state. Gingrich was focused on the 10 Super Tuesday states holding contests next week, among them his home state of Georgia.

A poll of voters leaving voting places in Michigan showed Romney doing well with older and college-educated voters. Santorum, who emphasized social issues, did well among voters who called themselves “born-again” Christians, and among voters who identified themselves as very conservative or supporters of the Tea Party.

Returns from Michigan demonstrated the closeness of the battle between the two frontrunners. Romney led in the southeastern counties around Detroit, and in some northern counties along the Great Lakes. Santorum held leads in a wide range of rural sections, including the Upper Peninsula, and in the traditionally conservative Republican western part of the state. In rural Huron County, atop the “thumb” of Michigan’s mitten-like shape, Romney won in complete but unofficial returns by just 4 votes out of nearly 4,000 cast in the county.

A majority of voters, according to the exit polling, listed the economy as their top issue, followed by the federal budget deficit, and Romney had the edge among both groups. Santorum won overwhelmingly among the one in seven voters who saw abortion as the top issue.

Santorum confirmed that he had targeted Michigan Democrats with automated phone calls encouraging them to vote against Romney.

“We’re going to get voters that we need to be able to win this election. And we’re going to do that here in Michigan today,” Santorum said Tuesday.

Each of Michigan’s 14 congressional districts awards two delegates to the winner of the district. Two other delegates are awarded by the proportion of the vote won statewide.

Arizona, by contrast, is a winner-take-all state. Romney was endorsed by most of the state’s top politicians, including Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. John McCain.

A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to secure the GOP nomination. Romney is leading with 157 delegates followed by Santorum with 77, according to an Associated Press tally.

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