DETROIT - With his 3.2 percentage point margin of victory in Michigan last night, Mitt Romney averted political disaster.
"We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that's all that counts," Romney told a crowd in Novi, Michigan, noting , "The pundits and the pollsters - they were ready to count us out."
It was striking language for a Republican candidate whose frontrunner status has been challenged again and again throughout the long and grueling primary fight. And there's more challenges right around the corner.
The largest single-day delegate prizes take place in less than a week, on Super Tuesday, when contests occur in 11 states, including two with the richest trove of delegate so far: Georgia and Ohio.
Though Romney can leave his home state with momentum heading into the next round of states, Super Tuesday is not shaping up to be a slam dunk for him.
The most recent polling shows Romney trailing in Ohio, Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee. Combined, those states hold 243 delegates.
As we saw last night in Michigan, and in ABC-Washington Post polling this week, very conservative voters are not sold on Romney. In Michigan, 30 percent of those who voted in the primary identified themselves as very conservative. Romney lost the very conservative vote to Rick Santorum by 14 points. http://abcn.ws/xc8bgJ
On Super Tuesday, very conservative voters will become a bigger part of the electorate. In 2008, very conservative voters made up 38 percent of GOP primary electorate in Tennessee. They made up 39 percent of the vote in Oklahoma, and 32 percent of the vote in Georgia.
Romney aides have indicated privately that Ohio will be a focal point of their efforts ahead of Super Tuesday, and there is a smaller percentage of very conservative voters and evangelicals there than in the southern states. However, the most recent Quinnipiac University Poll out just yesterday showed Santorum with a seven point lead over Romney in the Buckeye State.
SANTORUM FOCUSES ON REACHING OUT TO WOMEN. Although when he walked on the stage at his election night party in Grand Rapids, Mich. the race had yet to be called for Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum gave an address that seemed to focus on some of the mistakes he has made over the past week, reports ABC's Shushannah Walshe. "A month ago they didn't know who we are, but they do now," Santorum said, flanked by his wife, eldest daughter Elizabeth, and son John. "We came to the backyard of one of my opponents, in a race where people said, 'You know, just ignore it, you're going to have no chance here.' And the people of Michigan looked into the hearts of the candidates, and all I have to say is, 'I love you back.'" Santorum mentioned his 93-year-old mother, something he hasn't in previous speeches, and he told the audience in what seemed to be a pitch to female voters who might feel put off by some of his previous comments about women in the workplace, that his mother made more money than his father. "She was someone who did get a job in the 1930s and was a nurse, and worked full time. She continued to work through my childhood years," Santorum said to the crowd that was heavy on families with young children. "She balanced time working different schedules. A professional who made more money than her husband." http://abcn.ws/y1HZJI
NOTED: Although he called Romney to congratulate him, Santorum put some spin on the night's result: "This was going to be Romney's night," Santorum told reporters while greeting supporters on the ropeline. "The question was going to be how big? And it wasn't very big. It is a two-person race right now. We are doing excellently."
MICHIGAN. As ABC's Jonathan Karl points out, the Associated Press puts the Michigan delegate count tied with 11 each for Santorum and Romney and the other 8 delegates up in the air. The Santorum campaign claims they have won at least 15 delegates with four still undetermined. That would guarantee at least a tie for Santorum on delegates.
ARIZONA. The former Massachusetts governor won by a larger margin the contest in Arizona last night, a state that he was expected to take, in part, because of its large Mormon population, ABC's Matt Negrin reports. As the winner of the Arizona primary, he will get the state's 29 delegates while the other candidates get none. http://abcn.ws/z42XeS
INSIDE THE EXIT POLLS:
ABC News pollster Gary Langer (@LangerResearch) digs into last night's results in Michigan: http://abcn.ws/wHJq4f
HOW ROMNEY WON. Mitt Romney won the event, relying especially on older and wealthier voters to turn back a stiff challenge from Rick Santorum. But it was voters of an unusual stripe for a Republican primary - Democrats - who made things especially interesting. In the closest primary to date this year (excluding more lightly attended caucuses), Santorum easily won the groups he's targeted, including strong conservatives, evangelicals, strong Tea Party supporters and ardent abortion opponents. Union voters, fleeing Mitt Romney, helped Santorum. And so did Democrats. Romney relied on some of his customary support groups, notably well-off voters and senior citizens - effective elements, if not necessarily the most compelling ones for a national campaign. He won senior citizens, but no other age group. He won $100,000-plus voters, but no other income group. He especially won $200,000-plus voters, a group around which it's hard to build a slogan for the masses.
SANTORUM'S STRENGTHS. Santorum won evangelicals, a group among which Romney, a Mormon, has struggled, by a wide 50-32 percent; along with very conservatives, it's another potentially ominous result for Romney in the Southern primaries ahead: In 2008, evangelicals accounted for 73 percent of GOP primary voters in Tennessee, 72 percent in Oklahoma and 62 percent in Georgia, all among next week's Super Tuesday states. Santorum, similarly, won voters who care a "great deal" that a candidate shares their religious beliefs, by a vast 42 points, and those who want abortion illegal in all cases, by a nearly as vast 33 points. But he has his own challenges in these results - voters with less emphatic views on those two questions went for Romney.
DEMOCRATS SHOWED UP. Exit poll results found that nearly one in 10 voters in Michigan's open primary were Democrats. That was off their peak - 17 percent in 2000, when they tipped the contest to John McCain. But they influenced this year's outcome nonetheless: Santorum won 53 percent of Democrats, versus just 17 percent for Romney. Without them Romney would have had a fairly comfortable win. With them it was closer.
FIRED UP, READY TO GO? Another finding revealed a less-than-fired-up electorate. Fewer than half of voters, 45 percent, said they were strongly behind their candidate; more instead said they either liked their man with reservations (38 percent) or chiefly disliked the other guy (15 percent). Just half of Romney's supporters, and fewer of Santorum's - 38 percent - strongly favored the candidate they voted for.
DEMOCRATIC COUNTER-PROGRAMMING. The Democratic National Committee is out with a new web video this morning called, "Mitt Romney, out of touch?" The DNC's message is that despite Romney's wins in Michigan and Arizona last night, his "out-of-touch comments are starting to show his true colors." According to a press release accompany the new video, which includes a complication of what the Democrats would consider the former Massachusetts governor's greatest hits, "Whether he's talking about his NASCAR team owning friends, his wife's two Cadillacs, or arguing that corporations are people, Mitt Romney's off the cuff comments are not gaffes - they are windows into the soul of a man running for President who cannot relate to the lives of average Americans." WATCH: http://bit.ly/xyjgTa
OBAMA HONORS IRAQ VETS. ABC's Devin Dwyer reports: President and Michelle Obama tonight will formally express the nation's gratitude for the thousands of Iraq War veterans with a state dinner in their honor at the White House. The event, themed "A Nation's Gratitude," is the first of its kind to mark the end of a major war and comes just two and a half months after the last U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq. "A state dinner is the greatest honor a president can convey upon a head of state, and it was felt that the men and women who served in Iraq merited the same kind of honor and respect that you would give to a head of state," said Douglas Wilson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. A hand-picked group of 78 service members selected proportionally from across all military branches, ranks and states will attend, officials say, joined by members of military families, Gold Star families, and wounded warriors. While more than 1.5 million Americans served in Iraq during the nearly nine-year war, the mix of guests is meant to reflect and honor the diversity of the entire fighting force, officials said.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: President Obama gives an exclusive interview to ABC's Bob Woodruff today before the dinner. Woodruff also interviews several of the Iraq War vets attending the event. The event will be yet another opportunity for Obama to project his presidential bona fides and tout fulfillment of a 2008 campaign promise to bring the war to a close.
WINLESS RON PAUL VOWS TO FIGHT ON. Ron Paul may not have been a major player in last night's primaries in Michigan and Arizona, but he promised to continue to be noisy in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, ABC's Jason Volack reports. The congressman, speaking at a boisterous rally in Springfield, Va., addressed the fact that his campaign continues to be winless at 0-11."Everyone keeps asking me about winning states," said Paul. "We are winning delegates, and that's what counts." Afterwards in an interview with CNN, the Texas congressman was more candid, saying that he wished he could have done a lot better tonight, but that he is proud of the strong support he continues to receive - especially from young people. Paul was introduced by his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who joked that he's only there for a short time while the Transportation Safety Administration let him out. Paul said afterwards that his campaign will continue to focus on caucus states and selected primaries, including Virginia, where only he and Mitt Romney are on the ballot. Paul said he will reach out to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum supporters over the next week in an effort to defeat Mitt Romney in the state. The congressman said the strategy will work because his message appeals to Democrats, independents, and to the Republican base. http://abcn.ws/yAGhiP
ROMNEY: MISTAKES, HE MADE A FEW. Acknowledging that he has made mistakes in his campaign, Mitt Romney vowed yesterday that he would not "light his hair on fire" just to rally the conservative base, even if it means not winning the GOP nomination, ABC's Emily Friedman notes. "You know it's very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments," said Romney. "We've seen throughout the campaign that if you're willing to say really outrageous things that are accusatory and attacking President Obama that you're going to jump up in the polls. You know, I'm not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am." In the past week alone, Romney has come under fire for his comments. Following a major economic speech, Romney listed the number of cars he owns and over the weekend, Romney made and off-the-cuff remark about knowing lots of NASCAR team owners. But Romney declined to elaborate on the mistakes. "Oh, I can't imagine you would have a hard time coming up with anything," he said. "Never repeat your mistakes." When a reporter asked again whether he realizes how these types of comments hurt his campaign, Romney responded frankly. "Yes. Next question?"
MAINE'S OLYMPIA SNOWE RETIRES, BUT REPUBLICANS STILL CLAIM UPPER HAND. ABC's Sunlen Miller reports: National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Sen. John Cornyn said today that despite the retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe, Republicans remain "well-positioned to win back a Senate majority in November." "Maine has a proud history of electing independent leaders, including a Republican governor in 2010, and while this will be a key battleground in the fall, I am confident it will remain in Republican hands," Cornyn said. He added: "Olympia Snowe has served her beloved state of Maine, and our country, with strong principles and great distinction for many years. As both a friend and a colleague, she will be missed, and I wish both her and her husband Jock all the best as they embark on the next chapter in careers dedicated to public service." http://abcn.ws/zJvJwJ
PRIMARY STATE SPEED READ
by ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield: and Chris Good
How Romney's Wins Played:
Ohio: The Plain Dealer, "Romney Wins Michigan and Arizona, and race now heads to Ohio.
Ohio: Cincinnati Enquirer, "Romney Sweeps to Double Republican Primary"
Ohio : The Columbus Dispatch, "Romney Narrowly Wins Michigan"
Oklahoma: The Oklahoman: "Romney Gets Pair of Wins in Primaries'
Georgia: Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Romney Regains Stride; Candidate squeaks by Santorum in crucial Michigan, cruises in Arizona"
Georgia: Athens Banner-Herald: "Romney Sweeps to Double Republican Primary Victory"
Georgia: Marietta Daily Journal: "No Place Like Home; Romney sweeps to double Republican Primary Victory"
Georgia: Savannah Morning News: "Romney Wins Primaries"
T ennessee : The Tennessean, "Mitt Romney's Latest Victories Weren't Knockout"
-Hot off of his wins in MI and AZ, Mitt Romney will turn his attention to Ohio. "The former Massachusetts governor, who grew up in Michigan, will waste no time before cozying up to Buckeye State voters" The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. "He plans to appear at an event this morning at a Toledo factory, then head to Capital University in Bexley, near Columbus, where he will hold a town hall meeting." http://bit.ly/z1WlCa
- Tuesday was the last day for early voting in Tennessee, and the Tennessean reports that this year saw a sharp decline in the number of early ballots cast in the populous county of Davidson, where Nashville is located. Turnout was up in other parts of the state, but overall this year saw a statewide decrease of about 10% from 2008, when two parties held primaries. http://tnne.ws/ywFkwd
- Oklahoma's primary newspaper, The Oklahoman, which endorsed Mitt Romney in December, pleads with readers to elect the candidate it feels is best equipped to beat President Obama: "We confess to being disappointed that Romney doesn't have the nomination already in hand. Part of the problem is Republican emphasis on social issues, which makes Santorum appealing. Part of it is Romney himself - his perplexing inability to close the deal, including the dead heat Tuesday with Santorum in Romney's home state of Michigan. Voters there would be wise to think toward November, and the face-off with Obama," the paper writes in an editorial. http://bit.ly/A1GwtA
-The early returns are barely trickling in, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jim Galloway reports: "If early voting is any clue, the GOP presidential contest is setting Georgia ablaze - like a wet matchstick. According to Secretary of State Brian Kemp, 86,426 advance and absentee votes have been cast thus far. In 2008, there were 247,897 early ballots cast." http://bit.ly/zlSKoQ
- At a campaign stop in Rome, Georgia, on Tuesday, Newt Gingrich blamed President Obama for high gas prices, blasted the president for apologizing to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the military's Qur'an-burning, and said of Romney's money machine and attack ads in early-primary states, "He could wound us-but he couldn't kill us." http://bit.ly/wDr05E
@matthewjdowd : Three things Romney needs to prove still: 1.Needs a winning streak of states for first time.2. He can win/unite conservatives going forward. And 3. Romney can annunciate a positive message that can win states and rehab his image before the fall.
-Mitt Romney heads to the crucial Super Tuesday state of Ohio speaking at a grassroots rally in Toledo. Romney will hold an afternoon town hall in Bexley at Capital University.
-Rick Santorum campaigns in Tennessee, another Super Tuesday state. He'll hold and afternoon rally in Knoxville and an evening rally in Nashville.
-Newt Gingrich continues campaigning in Georgia which has the largest number of Super Tuesday Delegates, 76. Gingrich will hold rallies in Covington and Gainsville, GA.
-ABC News' Josh Haskell (@HaskellBuzz)
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