Romney Wins Wyoming Caucuses
(CNN) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has won the Wyoming caucuses, CNN projects.
Throughout February, Wyoming Republicans held caucuses and cast votes in straw polls in 22 of the state’s 23 counties. The final county, Sweetwater County, held its caucus Wednesday night.
Based on results compiled and released by the Wyoming Republican Party, Romney won 39% of the votes cast in straw polls conducted at county-level caucuses through Tuesday.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania came in second with 33% of the straw-poll vote, followed by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with 20% and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 8%.
The delegate count may be closer. Of the 26 delegates at stake, CNN estimates Romney will pick up 10 delegates, while Santorum will take in nine delegates, Paul will receive six and Gingrich one.
A little more than 2,000 people caucused this year in Wyoming, the state with the country’s smallest population at just more than 500,000 residents.
The Wyoming caucuses mark Romney’s third victory this week, after the former Massachusetts governor pulled much-needed wins in Arizona and Michigan on Tuesday.
However, Romney’s Michigan win comes with an asterisk. The latest CNN delegate estimate indicates that Romney and Santorum will evenly divide the 30 Michigan delegates at stake in Tuesday’s primary.
Santorum claimed a partial victory Wednesday when final vote results showed he and Romney evenly split Michigan’s delegates, even though Romney got more overall votes in the Republican presidential primary Tuesday.
Romney was ahead in the popular vote with 41% to Santorum’s 38%.
Santorum sought to highlight his strong showing in the state where Romney grew up, ignoring Romney’s solid victory in the other primary Tuesday in Arizona.
“This is a huge win for us. Let’s play it the way it is — don’t give Romney all the spin,” Santorum told reporters in reference to the Michigan results. “We went into his backyard. He spent a fortune — money he had no intention of spending — and we came out of there with the same number of delegates.”
Santorum strategist John Brabender told reporters on a conference call that “you can only look at Michigan and move it from a win for Mitt Romney to a tie race.”
“If we can do this well in Romney’s home state, we clearly think this bodes well for Super Tuesday states,” Brabender said.
In a sign of growing momentum, a Santorum campaign source told CNN that the former Pennsylvania senator will report raising $9 million in February from more than 130,000 contributors, and that Wednesday has been one of the campaign’s best fundraising days of the cycle.
Romney, meanwhile, took aim at Santorum as he campaigned in Ohio, another major battleground in next week’s Super Tuesday showdown with contests in 10 states.
“Rick Santorum is a nice guy, but he is an economic lightweight,” Romney told a crowd at Capital University in Bexley, an affluent suburb of Columbus. “He doesn’t understand what it takes to make the economy work on a personal basis.”
It takes “real experience” in the private sector and not “talking points” from a briefing book to understand how the economy works, Romney argued.
Earlier, Romney said at a Toledo event that Republicans need a candidate from outside the Washington culture of President Barack Obama and the other Republican challengers.
“I just don’t think we are going to beat Barack Obama and get our country back on track if we have guys whose resume looks like his resume,” Romney said.
Tuesday’s results were a relief for Romney, who needed to win both states, but especially Michigan — where he grew up when his father was governor — to assert his ability to overcome the conservative challenge from Santorum.
A Santorum victory in Michigan would have raised questions about how strong a candidate Romney is within his own party as the campaign heads into a busy schedule of primaries and caucuses.
The former Massachusetts governor’s big night also gained him all 29 delegates from Arizona, a winner-take-all state, where he had 47% of the vote to 27% for Santorum, 16% for Newt Gingrich and 8% for Texas Rep. Ron Paul with 88% of the unofficial returns counted, according to the secretary of state website.
The 10 states holding primaries and caucuses on Super Tuesday have 437 delegates, with 419 of them to be allotted based on the results in those contests. The other 18 delegates are not tied to the results.
Other major states on Super Tuesday will include Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma, all traditionally conservative territory where Gingrich must do well to keep up his campaign’s viability.
Gingrich and Santorum are competing to be the lone conservative challenger against the more moderate Romney, the only consistent front-runner so far who has a big advantage in money and organization.
However, Gingrich’s hope of building a strong support base in the South after his lone victory in South Carolina appears in trouble. Santorum holds a big lead in polls in Tennessee and Oklahoma, as well as Ohio.
On Tuesday night, Santorum said the Michigan outcome showed the Republican race was a two-person showdown between himself and Romney. That argument was intended to increase pressure on Gingrich to step aside so that Santorum can galvanize conservatives.
Tuesday’s results showed that the combined support for Santorum and Gingrich was close to or exceeds Romney’s support, a point certain to heighten the competition in coming weeks.
Romney has led nationwide polls off-and-on over the course of the campaign, but has been unable to increase his support base. Santorum is the latest of Romney’s rivals to challenge him for front-runner status by playing on conservatives’ reservations about the former Massachusetts governor.
Santorum’s hat trick earlier this month in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado propelled him to a lead in national polls and a double-digit lead in Michigan two weeks ago.
However, he had a lackluster performance in last week’s CNN Arizona Republican debate and has fallen into a statistical tie with Romney in national polls.
On Tuesday, Romney attributed Santorum’s late rise in the polls to his recent “incendiary comments” about Obama, such as questioning the president’s theology and accusing him of snobbery for advocating higher education for young Americans.
“We have seen throughout the campaign that if you are willing to say really outrageous things that are accusative and attacking of President Obama, that you are going to jump up in the polls,” Romney said. “You know, I am not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am.”
Santorum also came under fire from Democrats and some fellow Republicans for remarks on social issues, including the snobbery accusation against Obama and his declaration that President John F. Kennedy’s call in 1960 for separation of church and state made him want to “throw up.”
Santorum later told a conservative talk show host he regretted the remark, and Brabender indicated Tuesday night that the former Pennsylvania senator will spend more time talking about economic issues in coming days.
CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger called Santorum’s focus on social issues in recent weeks “detours he didn’t need to take” from the economic message that resonates most with voters in a sluggish economy.
To David Gergen, CNN’s senior political analyst, Romney’s victories strengthened the narrative that his campaign is on an inevitable march to the nomination.
While noting it is “easy to see how Mitt Romney can lose this,” Gergen added that it is “very hard to see how any of his rivals can win it.”
Paul, the libertarian champion making his third bid for the White House, campaigned briefly in Michigan to try to win some delegates, but was mostly looking ahead to Washington state and Super Tuesday caucuses to try to increase his delegate count.
“We’ll continue to work in the caucus states” where investments of time and resources pay off in delegates, Paul told CNN.
By CNN Tom Cohen. CNN’s Ed Payne, John King, Keating Holland, Robert Yoon, Jim Acosta, Paul Steinhauser and Rachel Streitfeld also contributed to this report