All eyes are on Michigan tonight in the Republican primary process as polls show an extremely tight race between long-time favorite and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and the surging social conservative challenge of ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
CBS News captures the key points to remember in tonight’s race:
“Romney was born in Michigan, and his father was both governor and a prominent auto executive in the state; his campaign has been running positive ads reminding Michigan voters of his roots in hope of rekindling fond memories of his family. Romney's campaign and the super PAC backing him have spent millions of dollars on advertising in Michigan in hopes of helping Romney avoid the black eye that would come with a home-state loss.
“…for Santorum, meanwhile, a victory would offer something virtually impossible to imagine just a few weeks ago: Frontrunner status…Santorum lacks the financial resources, establishment support or organization of his rival; to beat Romney despite all that – and in his own backyard – would be a major achievement. If Santorum pulls out a victory in Michigan, he'll have serious momentum ahead of Super Tuesday, where there are primaries in three important Southern states where he is well positioned to do well: Tennessee, Oklahoma and Newt Gingrich's home state of Georgia.”
So what is the Romney camp really expecting tonight? I asked senior Romney advisor Robert C. O’Brien for his take on what’s going on not just in Michigan, but moving forward this week. He suggested that despite the media hype – and apocalyptic view of what a Romney loss would mean – that there’s still a long way to go. Considering the fluid contest that this campaign has proven to be so far, it’s certainly hard to write either man off, regardless of who wins the wolverine state.
“After an incredibly strong debate performance last week, Gov. Romney has surged in Michigan from a 15 point deficit to a 3 point lead over Sen. Santorum in that state. Whatever the outcome of the close Michigan primary, Gov. Romney has shown that he is a fighter who will stand up for the American people, who want to get back to work and get the country on the right track,” ‘Brien told me.
O’Brien noted that voters in Arizona, which also holds its primary tonight, are poised to give Romney a big win, with polls consistently showing large Romney leads. O’Brien argued that Arizonans are fiscal conservatives “who appreciate Romney's track record of balancing budgets in the private sector, at the Olympic Games and as governor of Massachusetts.”
But this election is proving to be as much about expectations as results, and O'Brien was keen to suggest that in the Romney camp’s view, a Michigan loss would by no means be fatal.
“Wyoming is the unheralded contest this week and starts voting in caucuses on Wednesday. Ron Paul could do well there, but a victory by Gov. Romney, when results are announced on Saturday would give him significant momentum going into Super Tuesday on March 6.
“What this campaign has shown is that Governor Romney is the only candidate with the ideas, resources and organization to compete everywhere in the nation. It’s why he is the candidate most feared by the Obama machine in Chicago.”
Regardless, tonight looks like being another late one.