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Romney Scratches Out Close Victory In Michigan


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene. For Mitt Romney, this is a day to savor victory and feel a lot of relief. The former Massachusetts governor turned back former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in two states. Romney won an easy victory in Arizona. In Michigan, Romney had to scratch out a close win in the state where he was born.

Romney has reclaimed his status as clear front-runner one week before 10 more states vote on Super Tuesday.

We'll begin our coverage with NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reporting from Michigan.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: It had been a long time since Mitt Romney's last primary win in Florida a month ago. Since then, his campaign has been lackluster, known more for the candidates verbal missteps than anything he hopes to do as president - so yesterday was about a lot more than just another step in a long campaign.


MITT ROMNEY: And thank you, Michigan. What a win. This is a big night. Thank you guys.


GONYEA: Mitt Romney needed this to get his campaign back on track. But he also needed it, because day one of this campaign, Michigan was supposed to be a sure thing, a friendly way-station. It is the place he calls home. He had a long list of key endorsements, and the much talked about family ties, including his late father, the former Michigan governor. Then came Rick Santorum surge earlier this month, and suddenly a Romney win in Michigan seemed to be slipping away.

Ultimately, his superior campaign organization won out and he thanked those who helped make it happen.


ROMNEY: And in this room are the people who knocked on the doors and made the calls and went to the polls, and it made an enormous difference. We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that's all that counts.


GONYEA: And just as quickly, the candidate was free to turn his focus from Santorum, where it had been in recent days, to President Obama.


ROMNEY: He raised the national debt. I will cut, cap and balance the budget.

He passed Obamacare. I would appeal Obamacare.


ROMNEY: He lost our triple-A credit rating. I'll restore our triple-A credit rating.


GONYEA: Supporters who'd been looking nervously in the rearview mirror all week also seemed to have their confidence back. Dennis Devaney, an attorney from Commerce Township, was at the victory party in suburban Detroit last night.

DAVID DEVANEY: This isn't a surprise to me at all. You know, you could tell the momentum was shifting from the polls where it looked like Santorum had a lead and, you know, it's a big win. These two together, I think, do make the momentum going into Super Tuesday very significant.

GONYEA: Across the state in Grand Rapids, Santorum supporters arrived at his election night party before the polls closed, anticipating a big night. But as the giant projection TV screens showed Romney building a small lead and hanging onto it consistently as the votes rolled in, the excitement dimmed.

When the candidate arrived in the ballroom after 10 PM, he began by proclaiming...

RICK SANTORUM: A month ago they didn't know who we are, but they do now.


GONYEA: It was the biggest cheer of the night for the Santorum forces. But here was consolation in making it close.

SANTORUM: We came into the backyard of one of my opponents, in a race that everyone said well, just ignore, you have really no chance here. And the people of Michigan looked into the hearts of the candidates, and all I have to say is I love you back. Thank you.


GONYEA: Still, Santorum had taken a lead in polls back on Valentine's Day. Some had him up by double digits. The race narrowed in recent days. Santorum campaigned, calling Romney as being a phony conservative. He hit religious themes hard and courted blue collar votes - even Democrats. Ultimately, he fell short, unable to match Romney in spending or organization.

After Santorum's speech, his supporters quietly filed out. Among them, Jacob Rolf, who works as a youth minister.

JACOB ROLF: Yeah, you could see tonight as sort of a setback, but you could also see it as a huge victory, being three percent down, you know, just a few months ago and, you know, coming within a few percentage. So it's something to build on.

GONYEA: But last night, it was Romney who could claim real victory, and something to build on.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Grand Rapids. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.