While delegates are at stake – 29 delegates in Arizona, where the winner takes all, and 30 delegates in Michigan, which will be awarded proportionately – the primaries have been closely watched mostly as a gauge of how the two front-running candidates are doing.
Losing Michigan is a blow to Santorum, who is already at a disadvantage to Romney in terms of fundraising, staffing, and organization.
This is his first loss in the Midwest and raises questions about whether he can win in a non-caucus state. Failing to deliver a victory in Michigan, despite leading heavily in polls two weeks ago, will also raise renewed questions about his performance as a candidate and his ability to appeal to voters beyond Evangelicals and the far right.
Santorum turned in a shaky debate performance last week and has made several other missteps, including using some odd and religiously toned rhetoric to describe President Obama and suggest the country is degenerating into moral ruin. He said he “almost threw up” in reaction to John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religion, and his robocalls targeting Michigan Democrats, urging them to vote for him in the Republican primary, also sparked controversy.
Some GOP leaders have also questioned his decision to put so much emphasis on social issues, including contraception, which may alienate some women and more-moderate Republicans.