Michigan Primary Preview: A Two-Horse Race

The Michigan primary is shaping up to be a two-horse race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.  Michigan is an important state for Romney -- in particular, because he was born and raised there, and he grew up as the son of George Romney, a prominent Michigan automaker and former three-term Michigan governor.

A Detroit Free Press/WXYZ-TV poll that was taken before the debate on Wednesday night showed that Santorum had a 3-point advantage over Romney -- 37% to 34%.  Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich came in at 10% and 7%, respectively, both of them behind “Undecided/refused.”

Among the poll’s more noteworthy findings,

  • Romney led Santorum among women 37% to 33%;
  • Santorum led Romney among men 41% to 29%;
  • Romney led Santorum among pro-choice voters 43% to 18%;
  • Santorum led Romney among pro-life voters 48% to 29%;
  • Romney led Santorum among moderate voters by 51% to 17%; and
  • Santorum led Romney among conservative voters and voters who profess no political leaning by 46% to 27% and 54% to 27%, respectively.

Judging by the poll’s results, Romney’s Mormon faith could play an important part in the Michigan primary and possibly in the rest of the nation as well.  Santorum had a 48% to 19% advantage over Romney among religious voters who are other than Catholic or Protestant, and those who are “Evangelical/Born-again Christians” leaned toward Santorum by 51% to 24%.  Even so, according to the Detroit Free Press/WXYZ-TV poll, Michigan was still in play.  Romney was closing the gap, and 45% of poll participants said that they were willing to change their minds.

The latest Gallup tracking poll among registered Republican voters nationally that was taken between February 18-22 mirrored the Detroit Free Press/WXYZ-TV poll.  Santorum came from nowhere, and with his three-state sweep in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, he surged to a lead, but he has plateaued and is now dropping.  Conversely, Romney showed a dramatic drop in support following Santorum’s hat trick, but he has leveled off and is starting to rise again.

By Friday, a new Rasmussen poll showed that Romney had eliminated the gap completely and captured a 6-point lead in Michigan:

True to a primary season already marked by sudden and surprising ups and downs, Mitt Romney has jumped back into the lead in Michigan’s Republican Primary race. The vote’s on Tuesday.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters in Michigan shows Romney with 40% of the vote and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum with 34%. The poll was conducted on Thursday night, following the last scheduled debate among the GOP candidates.