The debate schedule for the 2012 Republican primary race has marked many of the moments the race has shifted, and it seems that it’s helped former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney this time.
Romney was behind in the Michigan GOP primary after former Senator Rick Santorum took the February 7th Minnesota and Colorado caucuses, along with the non-binding Missouri primary. Santorum, despite being outspent by the Romney campaign and allied super PACs, nursed that lead through the days after his surprise victories up until Wednesday’s CNN debate in Arizona. But while he didn’t he didn’t win outright, he didn’t flop either.
And that was all Mitt Romney needed. Romney won by default on Wednesday night, and his advantage on the airwaves softened the ground enough to take the lead in our TPM Poll Average of Michigan with the addition of two new snap polls taken completely on Thursday.
Michigan pollster Steve Mitchell explained why Romney has rebounded in his firm’s polling of the state, which showed Santorum with a lead of nine points on February 14th, a two point lead on the 20th and showed a three point lead for Romney on Thursday.
Romney’s lead seems to have solidified after real volatility over the past two weeks. Romney has made big inroads with conservatives over the past ten days: Santorum’s 16% lead among Tea Party voters has been erased and he is now tied with them; his 16% lead with Evangelical Christians has now been cut in half to 8%, and Santorum’s 31% lead with self-identified conservatives´ has now been cut to 13%. Romney had to persuade fiscal and social conservatives that he was more conservative than they thought he was. He also had to persuade them that Santorum was not as conservative as Santorum said he was. Romney seems to be accomplishing both those tasks.
Things are looking good for Romney in Arizona as well, where he has held a lead throughout the primary season, and still holds a comfortable advantage heading into Tuesday’s vote. Arizona utilizes a winner-take-all system (Michigan proportionally allocates delegates to the RNC), so Romney never really faced a challenge there because of his financial edge and existing lead.
Public Pollicy Polling (D) will release numbers on the two races on Sunday and Monday. It’s important to keep in mind that a win for Romney here isn’t a thrilling victory — the former governor is essentially holding off second tier candidates in a weak, crowded field at this point, which is hardly a strong position for a national frontrunner to be in. But for now, it seems that Santorum is trending down in Michigan, and Romney may sweep Tuesday.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.