Romney counts on momentum

REPUBLICAN presidential candidate Mitt Romney takes rekindled momentum into next week's 10-state blitz of primary contests, carried forward on an easy victory in Arizona but a frustratingly narrow win in native-state Michigan in the turbulent race for the nomination to challenge President Barack Obama. Of the four Republicans still jockeying for the party nomination, Romney has been at or near the top of the field since the state-by-state campaign began in earnest late last summer. By fending off former Pennsylvania Sen Rick Santorum in Michigan, the state where Romney was born and his father once was governor, he took long strides toward restoring the sense of inevitability that once surrounded his bid for the nomination. He overcame Santorum by a slim margin -- 41 per cent to 38 per cent -- in the Michigan vote Tuesday by sticking to his core and mainstream Republican message of fixing the economy and reducing unemployment in a nation still recovering from the worst recession in decades. Because Michigan awards delegates according to results by congressional district instead of through a winner-take-all system, Santorum could end up with more delegates than Romney. The state hands out two delegates for winning each of its 14 congressional districts. With 26 of the state's 30 delegates decided, Romney and Santorum each have 13. Results were incomplete in the final two congressional districts as of midday Wednesday. But with 98 per cent of the precincts reporting, Santorum had a slight edge in both. If his lead holds in both districts, Santorum would win a majority of the state's delegates, or 17 to Romney's 13. Romney won all 29 delegates in Arizona's primary. In the overall race for delegates, Romney leads with 165, including endorsements from Republican National Committee members who automatically attend the convention and can support any candidate they choose. Santorum has 85 delegates, Newt Gingrich has 32 and Ron Paul has 19. It will take 1,144 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president. Romney was badly knocked off balance by Santorum, who had employed an increasingly strident right-wing message to assemble unexpected victories across the American heartland in the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado. By avoiding defeat in Michigan, despite his loud opposition to Obama's successful bailout of the auto industry that heavily dominates the state's economy, Romney seemed to have retaken the Republican high ground as the candidate best placed to turn the president out of the White House after just one term. Santorum, the fourth declared Republican candidate to challenge Romney from the right, had become the new favourite of the conservative party base that distrusts Romney for his past moderate positions on hot-button social issues such as abortion, gay rights and government involvement in reforming the nation's health care system. "We didn't win by a lot but we won by enough, and that's all that counts," Romney told cheering supporters in Michigan on Tuesday night. "On to the March contests," he said, looking ahead to next week's 10 Super Tuesday races on March 6 that could finally determine who the party nominates at its national convention in late August. Santorum, who had once held a lead in Michigan, boasted Wednesday that he was walking away with half of Michigan's delegates after coming close to winning what originally looked to be a Romney stronghold. "We're feeling very good that we sustained ourselves and withstood the attacks, and we think we're going to have a very, very good Super Tuesday," Santorum said on a radio interview programme. Santorum is focusing on three big prizes among the 10 Super Tuesday states: Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Washington state's caucuses are first, on Saturday. Three days later, comes Super Tuesday, with 419 delegates up for grabs. The contests also include Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia. He has already begun campaigning in Ohio, and vowed, despite Romney's Michigan victory, to stick with the ultraconservative message that has carried his unlikely candidacy into the top tier against the much better financed and organised operation of the former Massachusetts governor. Romney will campaign Wednesday in Ohio before he flies to North Dakota. Gingrich and Paul made little effort in either Michigan or Arizona, focusing instead on Super Tuesday contests. Gingrich planned to campaign Wednesday in Georgia, the state he represented in the House of Representatives for 20 years. He could become a factor as he tries to revive and on-again-off-again campaign in the US South. Paul, too, could muddy the waters with his small-government libertarian message. This article is by Stephen R Hurst of the Associated Press


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