Romney Widens Lead in Michigan

Rasmussen has the first post-debate poll out, and it looks like Mitt Romney has regained a comfortable lead over Rick Santorum in Michigan:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters in Michigan shows Romney with 40 percent of the vote and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum with 34 percent. The poll was conducted on Thursday night, following the last scheduled debate among the GOP candidates.

The expectations for Romney’s performance in Michigan have been lowered slightly during the past week or so, but he still needs to win the state in order to avert disaster for his campaign. Even double-victories in Michigan and Arizona next Tuesday may only help him hold onto the status quo, and wouldn’t necessarily lock up the race. Writes the Washington Post’s Dan Balz:

How much would a pair of victories be worth? Republican strategists say that although they would restore Romney to front-runner status in the race, they could still leave the party looking at a long nomination battle. They also say that winning both states Tuesday wouldn’t be enough to resolve many of the doubts that still surround Romney.

Although he has long been seen as the candidate to beat for the nomination, Romney has fought to meet the expectations that go along with that status. He has been losing that battle of late. Against a relatively weak field of opponents, he has not been able to demonstrate consistent superiority. He has struggled to excite the Republican Party’s conservative grass-roots base. Conservative elites have been critical of his message and his candidacy. His shortcomings have engendered considerable talk about the still-remote possibility of another candidate entering the race.

Just the mere fact that Michigan became such a nail-biter is a serious concern that won’t be immediately placated by a Romney victory. Winning Michigan and Arizona would put the momentum back in Romney’s court and set him back on the right path, but it won’t be the end of the battle for him.