Romney wins in Michigan, Arizona a 'moral victory'

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 28 2012 10:37 p.m. MST

Freddie Parker who said he is a Democrat casts his vote in the primary as a Republican for Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum as Michigan heads to the polls on February 28, 2012 in Southfield, Michigan.

Joe Raedle, Getty Images

NOVI, Mich. — Mitt Romney's GOP presidential primary wins Tuesday in Michigan and Arizona were labeled a "moral victory" by one of his key advisers, former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who said the campaign is ready for the battles ahead.

Michigan, where Romney grew up and his father was a popular governor, was seen as critical in his battle for the Republican nomination after a tough challenge from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Although the race was close, Romney's promise to bring his success in business to Washington overcame Santorum's blue-collar roots and conservative stands on social issues.

"It's a strong finish," said Leavitt, who has traveled with Romney throughout the campaign and was headed to Boston to help plot strategy for next week's Super Tuesday races.

But with Santorum's recent surge, the campaign remains resigned to a long, drawn-out battle for the GOP nomination, Leavitt said, acknowledging new candidates may get into the race.

Some of the possibilities mentioned include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Leavitt said it would be difficult for them to win enough delegates to secure the nomination.

Santorum, was already campaigning in Ohio, one of next week's states, when the verdict came in from Michigan. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, made little effort in either Michigan or Arizona, pointing instead to next week's collection of contests in all corners of the country.

Leavitt said the Romney campaign is ready for whatever comes.

"When you have a disappointment in politics, you have to recalibrate the plan," the former member of President George W. Bush's cabinet said. "There are going to be some turnovers. The other team is going to score."

Borrowing a line from former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, Leavitt said the campaign has to "play forward" and focus on the upcoming Super Tuesday races and beyond.

Returns from 99 percent of Michigan's precincts showed Romney at 41 percent and Santorum at 38 percent. Paul was winning 12 percent of the vote, and Gingrich, 7 percent. In Arizona, with votes counted from 88 percent of the precincts, Romney had 47 percent, Santorum 27, Gingrich 16 percent and Paul 8 percent.

With his victory in Arizona, Romney had 152 delegates, according to the Associated Press, compared to 72 for Santorum, 32 for Gingrich and 19 for Paul. Michigan's 30 delegates are apportioned according to the popular vote. Two were set aside for the winner of each of the state's 14 congressional districts. The remaining two delegates were likely to be divided between the top finishers in the statewide vote. It takes 1,144 to win the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Tampa next summer.

Romney focused on President Barack Obama in his victory speech, delivered in this Detroit suburb near his hometown. "Times are tough," he said, and they call for leaders who will "get the economy back on track."

He said there is still belief in "the hope and the dream and the promise of America" and he promised to take his message of a brighter future "to every corner of this country."

Romney was hurt in Michigan by his continued opposition to the auto bailout backed by Obama, seen by many in Michigan as saving jobs and saving the state from financial ruin.

And he repeatedly made comments on the campaign trail that were used to portray him as out of touch with voters who didn't share his privileged background and personal wealth.

"Michigan was hit pretty hard and we have a lot of people who think the auto bailout was a good thing," said John Nixon, Gov. Gary Herbert's former budget director who now holds a similar post under Michigan's GOP governor.

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