“Voters in Tuesday’s Michigan Republican primary were looking for a candidate who they thought could beat Barack Obama in November and they found him in Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor won 61 percent voters who said the candidate quality that mattered most was the ability to defeat Obama.

“Overall, 52 percent of Michigan voters said Romney was the Republican candidate most likely to defeat Obama in November; only 26 percent thought former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was most likely to beat Obama.

“An overwhelming majority of voters in Michigan — 54 percent — said the economy was the issue that most mattered in deciding how they voted, and 45 percent of them voted for Romney, compared to 29 percent who voted for Santorum.”

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“In Michigan, it was less of a resounding victory for Romney than a near-miss of a humiliating defeat at the hands of a toppled Pennsylvania senator who is to the right of the Republican mainstream and running a seat-of-his-pants campaign. And that was the easy part…

“‘He’s still in the fight of his life for the next month,’ said Republican consultant John Weaver, who advised former Romney rival Jon Huntsman and GOP nominee John McCain in 2008. ‘If Romney wins the nomination, it will be because he dragged the base kicking and screaming.’…

“‘A win is a win,’ said Republican consultant Charlie Black, who is advising Romney, said of Tuesday’s results. ‘The race is going to go on for a while, but he’s back in a fairly commanding position. There will be plenty of time for him to get back on his main message and re-establish a connection with independent voters who right now are looking askance at all Republicans.’…

“‘Tuesday’s results will certainly stop some of the handwringing over Romney,’ Goeas said. ‘The Romney campaign has had a lot of ups and downs and I haven’t seen any signs of them pushing the panic button. They systematically look forward, and at some point he should get credit for the sturdiness of his campaign.'”

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“‘It does seem that his campaign is having a tough time sort of garnering that — not just that support, but that energy that’s needed,’ former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, a favorite of the movement, said in an interview late Tuesday. ‘Whether Romney wins or loses in Michigan tonight, just the fact that he’s had such a fight in his home state is evidence of that blessing not yet being given to him across the board.’

“Ms. Palin said that if Mr. Romney became the nominee she would support him ‘100 percent,’ but said he still had considerable work to do get important portions of his base on his side…

“Yet, there are those conservatives who view Mr. Romney as plenty conservative enough, and are eager to move on to the battle to defeat Mr. Obama, with Mr. Romney as the nominee.

“‘Frankly, the candidates are so close ideologically I just think that we’re losing sight of the huge gulf between our candidates and Obama,’ said James Bopp Jr., a conservative activist and party official in Indiana who supports Mr. Romney. ‘We’re suffering from the ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome.'”

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