Overlooked Arizona Primary Was Still Significant
Given those lofty predictions, it should come as little surprise that Romney won Arizona by a 20-point margin, with several media sources calling the state for the former Massachusetts governor just after polls closed at around 6 p.m. Tuesday night.
Because of the predictably of Arizona’s primary, the real question Tuesday came down to who would win the one in Michigan. As polls opened in the morning, pundits were still unsure who would prevail victorious in the state where Romney was born.
Due, in part, to the uncertainty surrounding the Michigan race, the media over focused its resources and attention on that state. In the end, Romney eked out a win against former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
By many, Romney’s victory in Michigan was perceived as more helpful in revitalizing his campaign than his win in Arizona. Still, Romney’s victory in Arizona should not be discounted as several interesting takeaways have emerged from its primary results.
In Arizona exit polls, Romney did well in nearly every demographic group. Among religious voters, Romney, a Mormon, garnered voters from a range of religious groups. Not only did Romney generate overwhelming Mormon support, he also received more support than Santorum from Catholic and non-evangelical Protestant voters.
Santorum, who himself is Catholic, had been courting the targeting Catholic voters since bishops objected to Obama’s ruling that employer-provided healthcare insurance had to cover contraceptives. Some attributed Santorum’s losing the Catholic by six percent to his comments last week about how President Kennedy’s 1960 speech on the separation of church and state made him want to “throw up.” While Santorum has stepped back from his line about Kennedy, the first Catholic president, it still probably hurt him at the polls Tuesday.
Another statistic, which is likely to aid Romney in the upcoming primaries, is that more Arizona voters preferred him on economic issues. The exit polls revealed that almost half of those surveyed listed the economy as the primary issue in the election. Of these voters, 47 percent supported Romney and 28 percent supported Santorum.
Nonetheless, Santorum still maintained an advantage over Romney on social issues, an area where Romney’s “conservative credentials” have been questioned. While Romney garnered backing from economic voters, Santorum won the support of voters looking for a “true conservative” and born-again Christians.
Ultimately, the most tangible consequence of the Arizona primary comes down to its delegates. With the winner-take-all rules in Arizona, Romney picked up all of the state’s 29 delegates. In a race that does not seem to be ending anytime soon, delegates do matter. In this regard, Arizona was a significant win for Romney, certainly more important than the dearth of media coverage may have suggested.
Heading into Super Tuesday next week, when over 400 delegates will be in play, Romney has regained momentum from his wins by staving off the threat of a Santorum win in Michigan. Still, there are many roadblocks for his campaign. Many observers still worry about Romney’s weakness among social conservatives and his inability to inspire enthusiasm among voters.
One thing is for sure, the process is not likely to end soon. Both campaigns are aware of this and their respective advisors have different strategies to win a prolonged nomination process. Santorum's campaign is hoping to face Romney one-on-one in March and galvanize anti-Romney voters. The strategy for Romney's campaign comes down to Super Tuesday, when they hope Romney emerges in a more dominant position.