While Republican candidate Mitt Romney is expected to win the Arizona primary, he faces a day of reckoning in his home state Michigan. It is a neck-and-neck race against contender Rick Santorum.
Mitt Romney's wealth is his biggest problem. When he visited the Daytona 500 last weekend as part of his campaign, it quickly became obvious how little he has in common with the fans of this extremely popular auto race. Of course, it may be fine that Romney admitted he wasn't such a big fan of the sport. But when he proudly added that he had some great friends who were NASCAR team owners, he doesn't inspire backing from voters.
These are people who can't even afford a car because they're unemployed, or who are moaning about the high fuel prices. Romney shows voters quite plainly: I am not one of you. The same became evident when he noted in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club in the "automobile state" Michigan that he only owned US cars and his wife Ann drove two Cadillacs. A man of the people looks different.
So Romney has a problem in his home state Michigan. He was born and raised here. His father was a successful automobile manager and popular governor. Until recently, opinion polls showed Romney behind his main competitor Rick Santorum, but he has caught up in the past few days.
Second place in Michigan would be a defeat for Romney. After all, this primary is not only about delegates' votes - it is mainly about prestige. But Santorum is also under pressure to succeed. He won two of the last three primaries: in Minnesota and Colorado. Now he has to prove that he is in fact a contender to be taken seriously.
Cadillacs versus sweater vests
It will become apparent in the duel between Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and Santorum, the one-time senator from Pennsylvania, who the Republican base can warm up to - and who it can't. Though the former business manager Romney can impress with his knowledge for detail, he doesn't particularly come across as likeable.
His challenger Santorum, on the other hand, presents himself as a "man of the people." It doesn't matter that his annual income in the last years totaled some one million dollars (744,400 euros). Santorum uses a different language than Romney. He can approach people and signalize understanding. This is also evident visually: Santorum contrasts Romney's perfectly ironed shirts with his trademark sweater vests. He also stresses another serious difference to Romney: Santorum presents himself as someone who not only represents conservative values because they win over voters, but because he truly believes in them.
The former senator from Pennsylvania holds family values very high. He and his wife Karen have seven children. He is anti- abortion - even in cases of incest and rape - and opposes prenatal testing, as he claims it leads to increased abortion rates. Santorum dismisses man-made climate change as a political ruse.
And Santorum favors an extreme choice in words, recently telling supporters that the United States currently faced a situation not so different from its experience in 1940 on the brink of World War Two. Americans need to get involved in the upcoming election, he said, in the same way they needed to get involved in fighting Adolf Hitler in World War Two. However, he flatly rejected suggestions that he was likening President Barack Obama to Hitler, saying the World War Two metaphor was one he had "used 100 times" in his career.
Obama catching up
All of these statements are unsettling for the Republican establishment. They don't want a campaign against President Obama that focuses on abortion, prenatal diagnostics and climate change, but rather on the economic situation. A successful businessman like Romney is the man they trust to win the independent votes necessary to defeat Obama in November.
Obama has been busy with his own campaign for some time now - and successfully. Opinion polls show that he has caught up slightly regarding satisfaction with his administration. Some polls even show him ahead of his Republican opponents.
The state of the economy has improved somewhat, as well. Americans are viewing their future more optimistically than just a few months ago, the latest survey by the Pew Research Center showed. The most significant campaign topic for the Republicans is threatening to break away.
An open race to the end?
Republicans continue having difficulties rallying behind one candidate. It will probably take some time still until it is certain who will challenge Obama at the ballot box. In the end, the number of delegates decide, which are distributed in part through a complicated and time-delayed procedure.
Romney currently has 99 votes and Santorum 47, according to the website RealClearPolitics. A total of 59 delegates will be awarded on February 28. Arizona has a winner-takes-all race with 29 delegates up for grabs. Here, Romney is the clear favorite. The 30 votes in Michigan, however, are distributed proportionately. In order to win the Republican nomination, contenders require a total of 1,144 votes from all states.
But not only Santorum is making life difficult for the favorite Romney. The former speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, as well as Texas Congressman Ron Paul are still in the race. But surveys show they are lagging far behind in both states in third and fourth place. Gingrich is even betting on "Super Tuesday" next week, when 10 states hold their primaries.
The term "brokered convention" is also mentioned time and again. This would mean that a crucial vote would take place at the Republican Convention in Tampa Bay, Florida at the end of August because none of the candidates was able to get the necessary majority - and perhaps even a brand new candidate could enter the ring. So even though the primaries in Michigan and Arizona on Tuesday are important for both Romney and Santorum, the race for the Republican presidential nomination will continue for a while.
Author: Christina Bergmann, Washington / sac
Editor: Rob Mudge