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Crystal Ball projection: Michigan & Arizona

As John U. Bacon points out in his new book about University of Michigan football, Three and Out, the Wolverines’ fight song, “The Victors,” is unique among college fight songs in that, instead of exhorting the squad on to victory, it instead celebrates a victory already won.

At the risk of being similarly presumptuous, and barring a Hail Mary by one of his opponents, the Crystal Ball believes that Mitt Romney will win Michigan next Tuesday, along with the other contest being held that day in Arizona.

Why? It appears that Romney’s superior organization and campaign advertising juggernaut is moving the numbers in his direction in both states. After trailing Santorum in Michigan for much of the past two weeks, new polls indicate that the state is now moving back into Romney’s corner. As of Friday afternoon, he had grabbed a narrow edge in the RealClearPolitics Michigan primary polling average. Santorum’s defensive debate performance on Wednesday did not help his cause.

The delegate battle, however, is a different story. Even though we expect Romney to win the popular vote in Michigan, it’s quite possible that Santorum will net more of the state’s 30 delegates (the state’s delegate count was cut in half because the Republican National Committee penalized the state for moving its primary into February). That’s because all but two of the state’s delegates are awarded to the winner of each congressional district. While it is impossible to predict these new congressional districts precisely, it seems quite likely that Romney will win the Detroit area and Santorum will win much of the rest of the state. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Santorum wins eight of the state’s 14 congressional districts even while losing the popular vote. That would give Santorum a 17-13 delegate edge over Romney. This assumes that the two at-large delegates are split between the top vote getters, Romney and Santorum. If Romney ends up winning Michigan by upper single digits or double digits, though, he could secure a majority of Michigan’s delegates. We’ll have to see just how much momentum Romney has in the final four days.

Romney will still probably win the day in overall momentum and delegates by taking winner-take-all Arizona — and his significant poll lead there has stabilized after briefly narrowing during Santorum’s well documented surge. A Romney win by any margin — even a single vote — would net him all 29 of the Grand Canyon State’s delegates. (Arizona’s delegation was also cut after an RNC penalty.)

More important for Romney, victories in Michigan and Arizona would give his lagging campaign a shot in the arm going into the Washington caucuses on March 3 and Super Tuesday on March 6. The most important contest on March 6 is in Ohio. Santorum has had a polling lead there recently, but we expect Romney’s performance in Michigan and Arizona to give him an opening. Ohio could be yet another case of Romney’s superior financing and organization coming to his rescue. In any event, given delegate allocation procedures, there probably won’t be a big differential between Romney and Santorum in the Buckeye State, with Gingrich and Paul perhaps garnering some delegates, too.

The Crystal Ball will have further projections about Super Tuesday’s contests next week. It will be a day when all four candidates will probably have something to tout. Romney’s triumphs in Michigan and Arizona, assuming they occur, won’t count for much elsewhere. The 2012 GOP nominating marathon is turning into one whose theme song was sung by the late, great Huey Long: “Every Man A King”— except substitute “state” for “man”.