CNN Projects Romney to Win Michigan, Arizona

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(CNN) — Mitt Romney will win Tuesday’s Michigan and Arizona primaries in the Republican presidential race, CNN projects.

Michigan had 30 convention delegates up for grabs, and they will be awarded proportionately.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were well back in Michigan, according to results on the Secretary of State website.

The victory in Arizona gives Romney all of the state’s 29 delegates in the winner-takes-all primary. With 160 of 722 precincts reporting, Romney had 50% of the vote in Arizona, according to the state’s Secretary of State website. Santorum has 24%, with Gingrich garnering 16% and Paul 9%.

Romney needed to win 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 been a major upset and would have given the former Pennsylvania senator sustained momentum after his surge to the top of the polls earlier this month as the conservative alternative to the more moderate Romney.

The campaign heads next to a series of key contests, including Super Tuesday on March 6, when 437 delegates in 10 states will be stake.

The race in Michigan was heated.

Santorum launched automated phone calls Monday asking Michigan Democrats to vote for him in the open primary “to send a loud message to Massachusetts’ Mitt Romney.” In Michigan’s primary, all voters can participate regardless of party affiliation.

Liberal bloggers also have been asking Democrats and independents to vote for Santorum as a way of damaging Romney’s chances of winning the nomination.

Speaking to reporters in Livonia, Michigan, on Tuesday morning — his first news conference in nearly three weeks — Romney called the tactics by Santorum and Democrats “a real effort to kidnap our primary process.”

He called on Republicans to turn out “and say no to the dirty tricks of a desperate campaign.”

Santorum defended the calls to Democrats at a campaign stop Tuesday in Kentwood, telling CNN that Romney used the same tactics earlier when he encouraged New Hampshire voters to cross over to support him.

A majority of voters in New Hampshire, which Romney won last month, were independents or Democrats, Santorum noted.

“And when he goes out and recruits folks who aren’t Republicans that’s all right,” said Santorum, who later said of Romney: “That’s what bullies do — when you hit ’em back, they whine.”

However, it was Santorum who first complained of the crossover voting tactic in January, telling a Minnesota event that “We want the activists of the party, the people who make up the backbone of the Republican Party, to have a say in who our nominee is as opposed to a bunch of people who don’t even identify themselves as Republicans picking our nominee.”

He called then for closed primaries with only Republicans allowed to take part “because it’s the Republican nomination, not the independent nomination or the Democratic nomination.”

Democrats who voted Tuesday said they didn’t need much convincing to support Santorum in order to weaken Romney.

“I said, ‘Why not? This is my way of voting,'” Dearborn Heights resident Gary Zulinski said. “That’s my right. There are so many people who don’t exercise that right. This is my way of saying ‘Hey, I’ve had enough.'”

Arizona’s primary allows Republicans and independents, but not Democrats, to participate. Early voting in Arizona began February 2, and officials say about half of those eligible to vote in the primary will have already done so by Tuesday.

For Gingrich, it’s all about Super Tuesday and Georgia, which he represented in Congress for more two decades.

“I want to focus on winning in Georgia. I think it is essential to us to do that, and we are going to do everything we can between now and next Tuesday to win here at home,” Gingrich said last weekend while campaigning in the state.

However, Gingrich’s hopes 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, another Super Tuesday state.

By Tom Cohen,Paul Steinhauser and John Helton. CNN’s Jim Acosta, Dana Bash, Tom Cohen, Adam Aigner-Treworgy, Bryan Monroe and Eric Marrapodi also contributed to this report.

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