There are 59 delegates up for grabs in Michigan and Arizona Tuesday, but the delegate count is being overshadowed by the nail-biter race in Michigan where Romney could lose the state he grew up in. The outcome in Michigan has taken on an outsized, symbolic importance that will dictate the mood heading into Super Tuesday next week.
In a way, no matter the outcome in Michigan, the damage to Mitt Romney’s campaign is already done. No one knows who will win Michigan tonight, but the fact that it will be incredibly close has weakened Romney’s campaign by underscoring his enduring problems connecting with working class and evangelical voters. This was supposed to be an easy state for Romney, who took it by ten points in 2008’s primary and has outspent Santorum there this time by 2 to 1. Even headlines like Romney barely wins home state will not be doing him any favors. In the same way, as both Republicans and Democrats have commented, Rick Santorum may lose Michigan, but in a sense he’s already won by coming this close.
If Romney loses Michigan, he may have a scapegoat: Democrats. The big story going into election day is whether Democrats will vote in Michigan’s open primary and tip the scales in Santorum’s favor. It’s so close in Michigan that Santorum decided to put out robocalls targeted at Democrats, urging them to vote for him in order to show up Romney and his opposition to the auto bailout (never mind that Santorum was against the bailout, too). Romney called the calls a “dirty trick” from a “desperate” candidate. Still, if it turns out Romney loses and some Democrats did turn out to vote, Romney will likely try to place the blame on Santorum teaming up with big union-style Democrats in the state.
Though Romney could come out of the night losing his home state, he will almost certainly win by a comfortable margin in Arizona and will add to his delegate lead overall. Since Arizona will allot its delegates on a winner-take-all basis, Romney can safely assume he’s gained 29 delegates by Tuesday’s end. In addition, because of the way Michigan will divide up its delegates on a district-by-district basis, Romney it’s possible that the winner of the popular vote could wind up heading out with fewer delegates than the man who takes second place.
So it’s not inconceivable that Romney come out of Tuesday’s primary wounded by perceptions of a weak showing in Michigan but with twice the overall delegates of Rick Santorum. In an interview on Fox News Tuesday afternoon, Romney was already framing the election as a long fight for delegates as the candidates work they way to 1144. The chart below shows you just how far the candidates are from crossing that magic number, and just how far they will be even after next week’s Super Tuesday.
TPM will be here with live results as they come in, updates, and analysis.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.