With just a few hours until the polls close in Michigan, it looks like it is going to be a very tight race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
The outcome of tonight’s primary could determine the shape of the GOP race going forward. A Santorum win would be a huge blow to the Romney campaign and likely stir up even more chaos in the Republican ranks.
Conversely, if Romney manages to edge out his latest rival and gain some momentum, he might finally be able to start solidifying his position as the frontrunner going into Super Tuesday.
Most of the polls in Michigan close at 8 p.m. We’ll be liveblogging the results, but in the meantime, here are five key things to watch:
Grand Rapids: Michigan’s second largest city and its environs should be a stronghold for Rick Santorum. The western part of the state is reliably conservative territory, and could account for as much as 25% of the vote tonight, so Santorum has to do well here if he’s going to compete. If voter turnout in this area is high, it will likely help the former Pennsylvania Senator. Alternatively, low voter turnout or an unexpectedly strong performance by Romney would be a bad sign for Santorum.
Democrats: Michigan’s primary is open, so crossover Democrats could make the difference in a close race. In a last-ditch effort to squeeze out a win, the Santorum campaign started robocalling Democrats yesterday to urge them to help defeat Romney. State Democrats has also encouraged crossover votes for Santorum (and in some cases, for Ron Paul). If Santorum wins, expect Romney to blame the the Democrats’ “dirty tricks.”
Detroit: Romney, a Detroit “native,” should be able to take a strong majority of votes in the tri-county metro area around Detroit. In fact, if Romney is able to win Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland counties by a solid lead, it could give him the cushion he needs to defeat Santorum. But there are factors working against him. In Wayne County, home to Detroit, a strong turnout by Democrats could give Santorum an unexpected boost in Obama-territory. And while Oakland, an affluent suburban county, should be a shoo-in for Romney, blue-collar Macomb County might turnout for Santorum.
Delegates: Michigan will award its 30 delegates to the Republican National Convention proportionally, by Congressional district. The winner in each of the state’s 14 Congressional districts will get two delegates, with the remaining two delegates going to the winner of the popular vote. It is therefore theoretically possible (although admittedly unlikely) that the statewide “winner” could get few delegates than the “loser.” If Ron Paul performs well in Michigan’s “University Belt,” he could also have a chance to pick up a few delegates.
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