* Romney wins Michigan, Arizona primaries
* Holds off Santorum in home state
* Regains momentum, but doubts persist
By Steve Holland and Sam Youngman
NOVI, Michigan, Feb 28 Republican
presidential candidate Mitt Romney avoided a humiliating defeat
in the state where he grew up on Tuesday as he edged rival Rick
Santorum in a bitterly fought Michigan primary.
Romney also rolled to an easy victory in Arizona, but all
eyes were on Michigan, the Rust Belt state that posed a crucial
test for the putative Republican front-runner.
Television networks called the race for Romney about an hour
and a half after polls closed. With 91 percent of precincts
reporting, Romney led Santorum by 41 percent to 38 percent.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul trailed with 12 percent of the vote
and former House of Representatives Speaker Newt
Gingrich got 7 percent.
"We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough and that's all
that counts," Romney told cheering supporters.
Romney's twin victories give him fresh momentum heading into
"Super Tuesday" next week, when 10 states across the country
hold presidential nominating contests.
A defeat in Michigan, where his father was a popular
governor , would have raised more questions about
Romney's ability to appeal to conservatives and blue-collar
voters in the state-by-state battle to take on Democratic
President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 general election.
As they have in other states, those voters chose somebody
other than Romney, a former private equity executive who
compiled a centrist record as governor of Massachusetts.
But a strong debate performance and an economy-first message
helped Romney seize the momentum from Santorum, who has led in
nationwide opinion polls since winning state contests in
Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.
Romney at times played into voter perceptions that he is out
of touch with the concerns of ordinary voters in a state that
has been hit especially hard by recession and foreclosure. He
told Michigan voters that his wife drove two Cadillacs and
mentioned that while he did not follow stock-car racing closely
he was friends with several team owners. Democrats have hammered
him for his opposition to the 2008-2009 government bailout of
the domestic auto industry, which is centered in Detroit.
Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania,
emphasized his staunch opposition to abortion and gay marriage
as he courted Christian conservatives in the western half of the
"A month ago, they didn't know who we are. They do
now," he told supporters.
Santorum had appealed to Democrats to back him in the
primary, which was open to voters of all parties - a tactic that
Romney denounced as "dirty tricks."
Exit polls showed that Democrats made up about 9 percent of
those voting, roughly in line with primaries in earlier years.
Santorum carried 53 percent of those voters.
Santorum carried the most conservative voters, those who
said that the religious views of candidates were important, and
those who were less affluent and less educated.
Romney won voters who had college degrees and those who
earned more than $100,000 a year. Voters who placed a premium on
electability backed Romney as well.
"We talk about who can run a government and who has business
experience and I think he had the qualifications," said Bobbie
Portelli, a retired nurse from Novi who voted for Romney.
Throughout the ups and downs of the race, Romney aides have
insisted that they are focused on securing the 1,144 delegates
needed to win the nomination. Romney was set to widen his lead
over his rivals there, as Arizona awards its 29 delegates on a
winner-take-all basis and Michigan awards its 30 delegates
With new rules that hand out more delegates on a
proportional basis, many observers expect the nomination may not
be decided until June.
Republican leaders worry that an extended, acrimonious
primary battle will damage the eventual nominee, and Romney's
approval ratings have fallen as the race has heated up.