“These results strongly suggest that Romney has successfully positioned himself almost exactly in the middle of the Republican electorate. This is far and away his greatest advantage moving forward, as it makes it very difficult for any candidate to forge a voting coalition large enough to topple Romney. Gingrich or Santorum would have to cobble together a strange bedfellows, left-right coalition of the most moderate and most conservative Republicans to defeat him. If you cannot win 50 percent of the vote outright, this is the best way to win – splinter your opposition onto two sides.

“This points to the two major points to draw from yesterday evening. First, Mitt Romney has essentially failed to win a majority, or even an overwhelming plurality of Republican voters to date. His average vote haul in the prior states was roughly in line with what we saw last night in Arizona and Michigan – carrying somewhere around 40 percent of the vote. Second, no candidate has yet found a way to topple him, because the non-Romney voters are divided on opposite sides of him. Thus, while Romney is not going to surge to the nomination as the majority choice of the party, it is very difficult to see how any of the declared candidates topples him.”

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“Yes, his home state of Michigan was closer than Romney expected it would be a month ago (although not two weeks ago, when one poll had Rick Santorum winning there by 12 points). But the key detail in the exit polling from Michigan was this: Romney won the votes of self-described Republicans by 10 points, 47 percent to 37 percent.

“The fact that Romney didn’t win by a landslide in Michigan was apparently the result, in whole or in part, of mischievous Democratic voters trying to weaken him. Exit polls suggest that those voters added as much as 3.5 percentage points to Santorum’s total…

“Most Republican voters are out-and-out conservatives (indeed, 42 percent of all Americans describe themselves as conservative) — but they’re not necessarily tribal conservatives who are searching for someone ideologically pure to follow. Romney was more than conservative enough, it would appear, for a near-majority of Republicans in Michigan and Arizona.”

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“Romney has shown in Michigan as elsewhere a capacity to win votes in affluent areas—which is exactly where (at least in the North) Republicans have been weak in presidential general elections over the last 20 years. Look at it this way: in 1988 George H. W. Bush carried the five-county metro Detroit area 50%-49%–a tiny margin, but one which enabled him, with a 56%-43% Outstate margin that was underwhelming in historic perspective, to carry Michigan. Similarly, the elder Bush, with big margins from affluent suburbanites, carried metro Boston, metro New York, metro Philadelphia, metro Cleveland and metro Chicago, which enabled him to win the electoral votes of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois…

“Affluent suburban voters are not happy with the Obama economic polices and are facing a choice between a Democrat who wants to tax their marginal income at 44% and a Republican (whether it is Romney or Santorum) who wants to tax it at 28%. They are far less concerned than they used to be about the cultural issues which moved them to the left in the 1990s and kept them there up through and including 2008…

“Affluent suburbanites are not a target group anyone has focused on much. But there are plenty of them and they tend to be in states with lots of electoral votes currently considered unavailable to Republicans. Mitt Romney’s showing in Michigan, on top of his proven appeal to this demographic—and particularly to affluent women—suggests they could make a difference in November 2012.”

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“Michigan was Mr. Santorum’s best shot at delivering a fatal blow to Mr. Romney. He logged as many campaign stops as Mr. Romney, and he benefited from a social-conservative majority in the western part of the state. His super PAC spent more than it had in any other contest. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich left both states largely to him—Mr. Paul focusing on the upcoming caucus states (Washington, Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota), and Mr. Gingrich trying to stop his slide in Georgia (his home state) where polls show Mr. Santorum gaining.

“Yet Mr. Santorum couldn’t beat Mr. Romney mano-a-mano. Unforced errors played a role. Mr. Santorum’s crude dismissal of John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech advocating the strict separation of church and state didn’t come across well. Nor did his suggestion that wanting everyone to attend college is snobbish. And his robocalls inviting Democrats to crash the GOP contest boomeranged…

“Mr. Santorum is focused on Ohio, Tuesday’s key battleground with 66 delegates. Mr. Romney can afford a narrow loss there as long as he wins a solid plurality of all the Super Tuesday delegates. Mr. Santorum’s candidacy will realistically be at an end if he loses the Buckeye State, though he could linger for weeks. Even a win leaves him on life support unless he can also best Mr. Romney in Tuesday’s Southern contests, coming in first or second with Mr. Romney trailing in second or third place.”

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“‘This is like watching a Greek tragedy,’ McCain told the Herald. ‘It’s the negative campaigning and the increasingly personal attacks … it should have stopped long ago. Any utility from the debates has been exhausted, and now it’s just exchanging cheap shots and personal shots followed by super PAC attacks.’

“The Arizona Republican, who endorsed Romney earlier this year and is set to rally with him in Phoenix tonight, said he believes the former Bay State governor will get the nomination, yet he worries a long, drawn out primary campaign could leave Romney too wounded to triumph in November.

“‘I know he’s going to be the nominee but I also worry about how much damage has been done,’ McCain said. ‘I think we still can win. … Once we get this over, the more we’ll be focused on Obama’s failures.'”

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“It shows the Democrats are terrified of him.”

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