Mitt Romney won home-state Michigan Tuesday night in a close contest that must have left feeling more relieved than exultant. Losing this one was not an option.
The former Massachusetts governor also picked up Arizona, and quite easily, adding much needed ballast to his shaky status as the Republican frontrunner.
"A week ago pundits and experts were willing to count us out," said Romney in a victory speech in Michigan. The victory was not big, but sufficient, he added, looking relieved.
Former senator Rick Santorum lost but looked happy to have come within striking distance. He ended second in both Arizona and Michigan.
But the Tuesday Republican primaries were about Michigan, where Romney was born and raised and his father was governor. Some weeks ago, it was a contest he was to win easily.
And then began the Santorum Surge. The former Pennsylvania senator hit the state riding a high after his three-state win, with a bulging war chest. Santorum pitched himself as a social conservative, to underscore Romney's moderate conservatism. The former senator had overplayed his hand, many analysts said.
He called Obama a snob for stressing college education and said John F Kennedy's speech emphasizing separation of religion and state made him want to throw up.
When he was done being preachy, he put on his street-fighter gloves. Michigan allows Democrats to vote in Republican primary and vice versa.
Santorum's campaign robot-called Michigan Democrats to come and vote for him, to help defeat common enemy Romney. Michigan has a sizable population of Democrats.
Romney, who likes to play rough, accused Santorum of using "dirty tricks". Santorum shot back: that's typical of bullies, they whine when punched back. But Democrats did indeed vote for Santorum, not because they felt inspired by him but because some of them wanted Romney beaten, as they felt he was the bigger threat to Obama.