(NEW YORK) — Mitt Romney is the projected winner in Arizona as he are Rick Santorum are still locked in a tight race in the Michigan Republican presidential primary as polls closed Tuesday night.
As precincts reported their vote totals at 9 p.m. in Michigan, the state where Romney was born and where his father was governor, the vote was too close to call.
In Arizona, ABC News projected — based on an analysis of the exit poll data — that Romney will win the primary, a state that he was expected to take in part because of its large Mormon population.
The solid victory in Arizona prevents Romney from an embarrassing sweep and could be a cushion of sorts should he stumble in Michigan, considered one of his home states. But the Arizona win could easily be overshadowed by an unfavorable media narrative if he either loses to Santorum in Michigan or doesn’t win by a significant margin.
Once expected to win the contest in Michigan handily, Romney watched his stock fall in the state after Santorum rode a wave of popularity from his Feb. 7 victories in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.
After some recent comments that gave him the image of an elitist — such as that his wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs,” and that he has “great friends that are Nascar team owners” — Romney was playing catch-up.
Santorum, meanwhile, continued to make controversial statements about social matters — such as that he wanted to “throw up” after reading John F. Kennedy’s speech on the separation of church and state, or that women fighting on the front lines might dangerously raise men’s emotions — but voters didn’t punish him.
His standing deflated slightly after the last primary debate in which Romney repeatedly forced Santorum to explain his votes as a senator.
Party elders and elites had shown signs of worry that Romney was taking so long to win the primary. A top GOP senator told ABC News that if Romney didn’t win in Michigan, “we need a new candidate.”
Analysts have speculated on a number of popular figures in the party, including Chris Christie, Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels and even Jeb Bush, but all of them have said they’re not interested in running for president, at least this year.
As Michigan residents voted on Tuesday, Romney said in an interview on Fox News that he doesn’t think the nominating process would be so contested that it leads to a brokered convention after the states have finished voting.
On the eve of the Michigan primary, some Democrats unearthed a plan to tip the vote to Santorum by voting in Michigan’s open system for the right-wing candidate, seeking to prolong Romney’s journey to clinch the nomination.
With nearly every poll putting Romney and Santorum even, Democrats — mainly a campaign consultant in Michigan and a liberal blogger — hoped that just a few thousand votes would crown Santorum the winner. Exit polls found that one in 10 voters said they were Democrats.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio