Today is an important day for Willard 'Mitt' Romney and the GOP. The direction the party takes from here may well be decided today. Republican voters go to the polls to cast their ballots in the GOP presidential preference primaries in both Arizona and Michigan. The first of these, Arizona, seems to be solidly in the Romney column. That's important for his campaign because it is a 'winner take all' state meaning Romney will get all of the delegates there even if he wins by just a single vote. Arizona has violated Republican National Committee (RNC) rules by holding its primary prior to Super Tuesday (March 6) and by awarding all its delegates to the winner of the popular vote. These violations cost Arizona half its seats at the Republican Convention in Tampa this summer. Thus, Romney will likely pick up all 29 that are available. Get the details here.
Michigan, on the other hand, also violated RNC rules by holding an early primary but is awarding two delegates to the winner in each of its 14 congressional districts, plus dividing the two statewide delegates between the top two vote getters. This means Romney will get at least 1 delegate in MI whether he wins or loses. A blowout victory in the state could net Romney 29 delegates from MI but a narrow win or loss could result in Rick Santorum securing more delegates from Michigan. Santorum could lose the statewide vote but win 8 congressional districts and pick up 17 delegates to Romney's 13. Would this be considered a loss for the Romney campaign?
The media and 'anonymous' Republicans in the establishment have hinted that a Romney loss in Michigan would set the party searching for a different candidate, including presumably, drafting a 'dark horse' candidate at the convention in August. It has happened before (James K. Polk in 1844, Benjamin Harrison in 1888) but not in the modern age of primary politics. I think it unlikely to happen this year either.
The bigger question, I think, is why does the party see a Santorum nomination as toxic to the party's hopes of unseating President Obama in November? Is this a tacit admission that the party is out of touch with most Americans on the social issues he advocates?
Regardless of the outcome today we likely will not know what it really means until November. If Romney wins today and ultimately becomes the nominee and then loses to Obama in November it will give rise to the purists who want it to be the party of family values and purity. If Santorum wins and gets blown out by Obama in the fall, the establishment will be strengthened in its conviction that the best Republican nominee is not a far right conservative but one who is slightly right of center and it will be time to shed the blood of the purists. So, while today will be important to at least one of the prospective GOP nominees, the day of reckoning will really come in November.