UPDATED: Romney Ekes Out Michigan Win, But Santorum Expects Tie in Delegate Count

UPDATE: On a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon, representatives of the Santorum for President campaign said that they expected their candidate to have tied in Michigan for the number of delegates -- 15 each -- to the Republican National Convention that will be apportioned to the candidates as a result of the photo-finish final tally, in which Romney beat Santorum in the popular vote by a mere 3 percentage points. The campaign is basing its projection on "anecdotal and empirical data" it has receceived, said John Brabender, senior advisor to the Santorum campaign -- not certified results from the Michigan secretary of state.

"You can only look at Michigan and move it from a win for Romney as a tied race," said John Brabender, senior advisor to the Santorum campaign. That result, coming in Romney's native state, Brabender said, "can only be seen as a disaster for Mitt Romney, and certainly unexpected by the Romney campaign."

In claiming the tie for Santorum, Brabender reminded that when Santorum won the Missouri primary, which awarded no delegates, the Romney campaign discounted the results.

"The Romney people were quick to put out that what they were calling 'beauty contest votes' meant nothing, and it was all about delegates," Brabender said. "And so we agree with him on that."

The Santorum aide also claimed that the campaign's robocalls to Democratic voters was part of an appeal to "Reagan Democrats," and not part of a monkey-wrenching operation by liberals who wanted to weaken Romney by drawing out the Republican nomination contest.

They were both contests Mitt Romney had to win, the pundits said -- the Republican presidential primaries in Arizona and Michigan. The first, Romney won handily, by more than 20 points. The second, he won just barely. At press time, with 88 percent of precincts reporting, Romney’s Michigan victory appeared to be by a mere 3-point margin against his closest rival, Rick Santorum. 

"We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough -- and that's all that counts," Romney told a roomful of supporters gathered at a conference center in Novi, Mich. While that claim holds an objective truth, the close margin of Romney’s victory over Santorum renders him a wounded culture warrior in his battle for the G.O.P. presidential nomination.

In the quest for delegates to the Republican National Convention, Arizona, a winner-take-all state, handed Romney a big prize, with its 29 delegates. But in Michigan, the state's 30 delegates are doled out by congressional district, and at press time it remained unclear as to whether Romney’s delegate count in that state would actually exceed Santorum’s.

That Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, could come so close to defeating Romney in a state where he is something of a native son would be enough to give pause to any potential Romney backer. But factor in the frankly insane campaign Santorum ran against Romney with just a fraction of the millions Romney and the pro-Romney superPAC, Restore Our Future, are said to have dumped into the Michigan contest, and you get a sense that much is amiss with the Romney candidacy. The Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports that Romney and the ROF PAC spent a total of $3.2 million in Michigan, which adds up to more than $1 million per point in his margin of victory.

Over the course of the last two weeks, Santorum made a series of bizarre pronouncements, calling President Barack Obama “a snob” for wanting to make college education available to all, and saying that a famous speech by John F. Kennedy defending the separation of church and state “makes me throw up.” He suggested that Obama adhered to “a phony theology,” and implied that it was kind of pagan

This all came on top of the unearthing, by Right Wing Watch, of a 2008 Santorum speech in which he said Satan had set his sights on the United States, having already destroyed its education system through liberal teaching, and made the mainline Protestant denominations into something “outside of Christianity.” Santorum’s personal opposition to birth control, which he said was “harmful to women,” was also a topic of much discussion. And Santorum’s famous 2003 comparison of gay sex to bestiality often finds its way into any discourse on his views.

Yet, despite all that, he almost all but ended Romney’s once “inevitable” romp to the nomination, as chatter in the upper echelons of the Republican party turned to the search for an alternative candidate to Romney should Santorum win Michigan.

Romney made his own series of gaffes, though none so strange as Santorum's claims, and more often simply insensitive to his position in the top 1 percent of income earners. While expressing his love for American cars, he revealed that he and his wife had four, including the "couple of Cadillacs" his wife drives. When asked a question about NASCAR racing, Romney averred that he didn't follow it closely, but has "some great friends who are NASCAR team-owners."

As voting got underway in Arizona and Michigan, Romney lashed out at Santorum for his "incendiary" rhetoric. From the Washington Post:

"It’s very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments,” he told reporters. “We’ve seen throughout the campaign that if you’re willing to say really outrageous things that are accusatory and attacking President Obama, that you’re going to jump up in the polls. You know, I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support."

This was the same Mitt Romney who, in his speech after his Florida primary win, said that Obama "demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy."

After his Michigan win was secured, as if to prove his weakness, Romney delivered a forgettable victory speech (video on last page of this article), full of platitudes about America's greatness, and the usual right-wing themes: a promise to repeal "Obamacare" (which has much in common with the health-care plan Romney implemented in Massachusetts when he was governor there), excoriation of Obama for suspending the Keystone oil pipeline that would run from Canada to Texas, and a vague promise to create jobs.

He reiterated his claim that the 2012 campaign is a battle "for the soul of America," but it's a hard case to make by a speaker who comes across as so lacking in soulfulness.

Santorum Gets An Assist From Dems

Santorum's close second to Romney's photo finish, though, may speak less to his own strengths than to Romney's weakness, including a contempt held for him by many in the state's workforce in the automotive industry, which is centered around Detroit. A contingent of Democrats even played a monkey-wrenching game, voting for Santorum in Michigan's open primary with the hope of depriving Romney of a win. The Detroit Free Press reported that Democrats were voting "in droves" for Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul, and Public Policy Polling estimated that Democrats comprised 8 percent of Michigan's Republican primary vote.

Romney opposed the government bailout of the U.S. auto industry, which most believe saved the three major automakers -- General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. (The "bailout" was actually a loan program; Ford has already repaid its debt to the taxpayers in full, and all of the companies have been restored to profitability.) Yet Romney, who himself has made millions in buying and dismantling of companies, supported the government bailout of Wall Street firms. As the son of an auto executive -- his father ran American Motors, and, in fact, was credited with saving the company in the 1950s -- Romney was seen by many as a turncoat.

Even though Santorum also opposed the auto bailout, he claimed to oppose the Wall Street bailout, as well, and made a case for at least being consistent. When it became apparent that some Democrats were poised to vote for him just to mess with Romney, Santorum encouraged it, even making robo-calls to Democratic voters. Romney accused Santorum of playing "political dirty tricks." 

At The Daily Kos, founder Markos Moulitsas stepped up his Operation Hilarity campaign, which also encourages Democrats to vote for Santorum in open primaries on the grounds that it is, well, hilarious to see Romney oppressed by such an out-there opponent.

A Concession or a Victory Speech?

While Romney delivered his valedictory in his usual bland-but-anxious, eager-to-please manner, Santorum's concession speech sounded an awful lot like a victory speech -- and one designed to correct some of the crazy he had injected into his own campaign.

"Wow, a month ago, they didn’t knew who we are," Santorum said, "but they do now."

More forceful and confident than Romney, Santorum, addressing supporters at the Amway Grand Hotel in Grand Rapids, didn't just deride the president for delaying the Keystone project, he took on the whole of the administration's energy program while banging a piece of shale rock on the podium. He mentioned a shale-rich town in North Dakota.

"It’s a small town, and it could be a boomtown," Santorum said. "But they’re nervous, because the president and EPA is hovering. Yes, they developing oil on private lands, this oil, yeah, this is oil. Oil -- out of rock, shale. It leaches oil. In fact, the highest-quality oil in the world, light sweet crude."

But before his disquisition on energy -- which called for extraction by virtually any means necessary -- Santorum began his speech with a pitch to women, who may have been alienated by his pronouncements on birth control and on the virtues of home-schooling, and people who think going to college is a good thing.

Invoking the image of his 93-year-old mother watching him on television, Santorum spoke of how she did something unusual for a woman in the 1930s: she graduated from college, became a nurse, and continued her education to get a graduate degree. She worked at the Veterans Administration (a government job) where she met Santorum's father, and they married.

"[T]hey had me and the rest of the family, my brother and sister, and my mom continued to work," Santorum said. "She worked all of my childhood years. She balanced time, as my dad did, working different schedules, and she was a very unusual person at that time. She was a professional who actually made more money than her husband."

He then spoke of the accomplishments of his wife, Karen, an attorney and a nurse who "walked away" from all that in order to raise the couple's seven children. 

Romney Lives to See Super Tuesday

The nomination contest resumes on March 3, with caucuses in the state of Washington, where 43 delegates are up for grabs. On March 6, Romney will face off against Santorum once again, this time in a total of 10 states, with Gingrich thrown into the mix. (Oh, you thought he was gone?) Among those states, Georgia is the biggest prize, with its 76 delegates, and Georgia just happens to be the state that sent the former House speaker to Congress for 20 years. (Its delegates, however, are doled out proportionally to the percentage of the vote won by a candidate.) Ohio also promises to be hard-fought. More conservative than Michigan, and neighboring Santorum's native Pennsylvania, a brutal battle is expected in the Buckeye State.

Yet for all the intensity of the battle between the contenders, there appears to be little in the Republican base. The Washington Post reports that among Michigan primary voters, "[l]ess than half of voters there said they backed their candidate 'strongly,'" in exit polls. Turnout was reported to be low.

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