Mitt Romney scored a hard-fought victory in his native state of Michigan and won handily in Arizona,slowing the advance of his top Republican presidential rival Rick Santorum and gaining precious momentum ahead of a key set of primary contests next week.
Romneys sweep of Tuesdays contests marked the latest turn in a turbulent primary campaign,and could cement his status as front-runner to challenge President Barack Obama in the presidential election. But he fell short of landing the knock-out punch needed to stop his top opponent in his tracks.
Romney is viewed as the candidate best positioned to beat Obama,and has the backing of much of the Republican establishment,more campaign funds and a stronger organisation than his primary rivals. But Santorum has captured the heart of the partys conservative base,which has no doubt about the authenticity of his views on social issues such as abortion and considers Romney too moderate and inconsistent.
We didnt win by a lot but we won by enough,and thats all that counts, Romney told cheering supporters in Michigan on Tuesday night.
On to the March contests, he said,looking ahead to next weeks 10 Super Tuesday races that could go a long way toward determining the Republican who will take on Obama.
Santorum had hoped for a win in Michigan following his victories earlier this month in Minnesota,Colorado and Missouri. He told supporters late Tuesday that a month ago they didnt know who we are,but they do now.
The former senator from Pennsylvania was already campaigning in Ohio,one of next weeks biggest prizes,when the verdict came in from Michigan,and vowed to stay the conservative course he has set. Romney was to campaign Wednesday in Ohio before he flies to North Dakota.
Two other candidates in the race,former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep Ron Paul,made little effort in either Michigan or Arizona,focusing instead on Super Tuesdays. Gingrich planned to campaign Wednesday in Georgia.
With 99 per cent of Michigans precincts reporting,Romney had 41 per cent to Santorums 38 per cent. Paul was in third place with 12 per cent,and Gingrich was bringing up the rear with 7 per cent.
In Arizona with all precincts reporting,Romney led with 47 per cent to Santorums 27 per cent. Gingrich was third with 16 per cent and Paul came in last with 8 per cent.k
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