Presidential races are all about momentum.
It matters more than anything less money. And, many would argue momentum is even more important than cash in the bank. In Mitt Romney’scase, his strong financial advantage bought him much-needed momentum at the perfect time.
Romney dominated Arizona with a 20-point victory over Rick Santorum, and captured the state’s 29 delegates. His 3-point win in Michigan was much closer, and Romney and Santorum will essentially divide the state’s 30 delegates.
There are four pieces of data from Tuesday’s results that should comfort Republicans, many of who have openly questioned Romney’s ability to go the distance with President Barack Obama.
First, Romney not only won the suburbs, he dominated them. He won Maricopa County in Arizona by 25 points and Oakland County, Michigan by 21 points. He won other key Michigan counties like Macomb with strong margins. These will among the most important battleground counties in the general election.
Second, a plurality of voters in both states report the quality they care most about in a candidate is his ability to defeat Obama in November. Romney won this measure by more than 30 points in both states. Anyone who questions Romney’s ability to coalesce the Republican base should simply look at this measure.
Third, despite all the discussion about social issues the last month, the economy is the most important issue for Republicans. Social issues barely registered as a priority. In fact, 49 percent of Arizona Republicans and 54 percent of Michiganders reported the economy was most important to them. Romney handily won these voters, by 25 percent in Arizona and 16 percent in Michigan.
Finally, despite the chest thumping among many conservative leaders about how Romney can’t connect with them, isn’t one of them, and can’t win them, their conservative brethren are voting for him. Combining the results of both states, Romney won more self-described conservatives than Santorum on Tuesday and even bested him among Arizona voters who consider themselves very conservative, 41 percent to 35 percent. I think Romney’s focus on fighting illegal immigration was a key driver in Arizona.
Now all eyes turn to Super Tuesday. Romney’s victories in Michigan and Arizona should propel him to win in key states like Ohio and Virginia on Super Tuesday next week. If he dominates those contests, the race will be all but over. If he doesn’t, Republicans will be in for a long, contentious delegate battle.
Sara Fagen is a CNBC contributor who helps Fortune 500 companies and trade associations with strategic planning and crisis management. One of the nation’s leading political and issue campaign strategists, she served as a senior aide and White House political director for President George W. Bush.