Crucial primaries await Republican front-runners

Washington, Feb 28: With new polls indicating that the race for Republican presidential nomination remains close and volatile, front-runners Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are pushing hard for votes ahead of two crucial primaries Tuesday.

Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona and Michigan bring new focus and urgency to the campaigns of former Massachusetts governor Romney and former senator Santorum as well as trailing candidates former House speaker Newt Gingrich and House member Ron Paul.

For Romney, Michigan amounts to a vital test because the state is considered home turf, due to his childhood years there while his father George was governor for three terms.

A Romney victory in Michigan would probably cement his status as the presumptive nominee, while a victory for the recently resurgent Santorum would raise further questions about Romney’s ability to attract broad conservative support in later primaries or against President Barack Obama in November’s general election.

A new poll Monday of likely Republican primary voters in Michigan showed Santorum at 36 percent support for a slight but statistically insignificant lead over Romney’s 35 percent, while Paul and Gingrich were well back.

According to the American Research Group poll, conducted Saturday and Sunday, Santorum has lost 2 percentage points since a similar survey conducted February 21-22, while Romney has gained 1 percentage point.

Other polls also showed a tightening race between Romney and Santorum, who came from well back to seize the lead after his three victories Feb 7 in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota.

The latest Gallup national tracking poll showed that Romney has erased a 10-point deficit against Santorum among registered Republicans, with 31 percent of respondents saying they would support Romney and 29 percent favouring Santorum.

That reversed 36 percent to 26 percent advantage for the former Pennsylvania senator over Romney last week. Another nationwide poll released Monday, addressing likely Republican voters nationwide, also suggested that the pair have roughly equal support now.

The Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll showed Santorum with 36 percent support among likely Republican voters, while Romney had 34 percent-well within the survey’s margin of error.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

IANS