Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been declared the winner of the Feb. 28 Republican primaries in Arizona and Michigan in a pair of victories that returns front-runner status to the GOP candidate.

With 68 percent reporting in Arizona, Romney held a 22-point lead over former Sen. Rick Santorum (48-26). In Michigan, with 90 percent reporting, Romney led by 41-38 percent against Santorum. Ron Paul received 12 percent and Gingrich, 7 percent.

A Twitter post published at the Washington Post website noted, “There is interesting dancing going on here at the Romney HQ. Current soundtrack: ‘Stop in the Name of Love.'”

“It was just a week ago, the pundits and the pollsters were ready to count us out,” Romney declared to a crowd of supporters. “We didn’t win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that’s all that counts.”

He added, “This president likes to remind us he inherited an economy in decline, but he doesn’t remind us he inherited a Democratic Congress. … He put us on a path toward debt and deficits and decline. It’s time to get off that path and get on the path toward American prosperity.

“You’ve heard that expression, I need a vacation from my vacation. We need a recovery from this so-called recovery.”

At an election night rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., Santorum told his supporters, “A month ago they didn’t know who we are. They do now. What an absolutely great night. I am so thankful to so many people. We came to the backyard of one of my opponents in a race that everyone said just to ignore. And the people of Michigan looked into the hearts of the candidates and all I have to say is that I love them back.”

Polls leading up to the primaries showed Romney leading in Arizona, where a sizable Mormon population was expected to give him a boost. In 2008, Romney (34.5 percent) lost Arizona to McCain (47.2 percent). Romney has campaigned intensely in Arizona since June 2011. During this election season, Romney visited the state six times – nearly the same number of trips of Gingrich, Paul and Santorum combined.

The results set the stage for the biggest primary day of the year, March 6, or Super Tuesday, when 10 states hold GOP primaries or caucuses next week.

There were a combined 59 delegates at stake in this round of primaries, with 30 delegates from Michigan, a hybrid proportional state, and 29 delegates from Arizona, a winner-take-all state.

To win the Republican nomination, a single candidate must win 1,144 delegates.

According to CNN exit polls, one in 10 Michigan primary voters was a Democrat. Of those, 50 percent reported voting for Santorum, 19 percent for Ron Paul and 15 percent for Romney.

Michigan voters do not register with a single party. In presidential primaries, they may opt to vote for a candidate of the party they do not support. In such a case, Democrats could select the GOP candidate who would offer the least resistance to President Obama’s re-election campaign.

Polls in Michigan leading up to the primaries showed a close race between Romney and Santorum. Romney hoped for a home-state advantage in Michigan, the state of his birth and where his father was once governor. In 2008, he won Michigan (38.9 percent) against John McCain (29.7 percent).

Despite Romney’s wins tonight, many GOP strategists still say the Republican Party is facing a long nomination battle before a single candidate reaches the required 1,144 delegates. The Michigan showdown marked what could be a long and bloody presidential primary.

His victory in Michigan may improve Romney’s Ohio prospects. However, Santorum, who hails from nearby Pennsylvania, is a major competitor there. Due to a conservative voter base, Tennessee and Oklahoma could prove to be challenging for Romney.

Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul skipped the Republican presidential primaries in Michigan and Arizona. Gingrich is hoping to garner support in his home state, Georgia, and other Super Tuesday states.

“Winning next Tuesday moves us toward Tampa in a big way,” Gingrich told the Associated Press. “Georgia is the biggest group of delegates out there on Super Tuesday so this is a big deal and it really, really matters.”

Ron Paul told Fox News, “When you’re in politics you look for the positive things … Yesterday, we had a poll come out, and I’m doing the best against the president … We’re going to concentrate on that. We’re going to concentrate on the delegate count.”

Regarding Rand Paul’s political future tied to talks with the Romney campaign, Ron Paul said: “We don’t talk about it, and we don’t think about it. I have my job and he has his job. … That’s just fiction and is being promoted by someone who’s involved in conspiracy theories. Santorum’s doing that. … My son can take care of himself.”

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