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Saint Mary’s professor analyzes primary

Keelin McGee | Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Just across the state line, the Michigan Republican presidential primary took center stage as candidates battled for the state’s delegates Tuesday.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum emerged as the leading candidates in a tight Tuesday primary, in which Romney edged out Santorum with 41.1 percent of the reported votes to Santorum’s 37.9 percent, according to an Associated Press poll.

Sean Savage, professor of political science at Saint Mary’s, said Romney and Santorum’s battle for the lead was a close call.

“At the end of last week, according to a composite of different polls, Santorum was ahead by 0.08 percent,” Savage said. “It was that close.”

Savage said the economy and the candidates’ electability against President Barack Obama significantly influenced voters’ opinions. 

“Certainly the economy was a major issue with the impact it has had on Detroit and the auto industry,” Savage said. “According to exit polls, voters wanted someone who had business and administrative experience [in the private sector], but people also voted for who they thought would be able to beat President Obama, and that was Romney.”

Santorum, however, maintained a solid base of loyal conservatives supporters, Savage said.

“According to polls from the primary, Santorum had the most support from labor union members, blue-collar workers, evangelicals, voters who saw abortion as the biggest issue and the more loyal conservatives,” Savage said. 

Savage said Romney’s level of education and affluence appealed to voters. 

Despite the close nature of the race, Savage said a few intangible factors contributed to Romney’s victory, including his personal connection to the state of Michigan. 

“Romney grew up in Michigan, and his father [George Romney] had been governor,” Savage said. “And even though Romney lost overall to McCain in the 2008 [primary] election, he won Michigan.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder endorsed Romney, who led a more organized campaign in Michigan than Santorum, Savage said. 

“Santorum would hold rallies and there would be people cheering, but then there was no follow-up with his supporters,” Savage said. “There was no organized way of collecting names, emails and numbers to continue to encourage their support, but Romney’s campaign did not have such organizational problems.”

While Romney’s close win in Michigan is influential, Savage said it will not determine who wins the GOP nomination, especially because the candidates still face a long road until the Republican National Convention in August.

“Michigan was a close race and a good win for Romney,” Savage said. “However, Romney only has 14 percent of the necessary delegates for the nomination, so there is still a long road ahead.”