RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And while Mitt Romney was eking out that win in Michigan, he pretty much walked away with yesterday's Arizona primary. Romney was expected to win in Arizona, but he walloped his closest challenger - that would be Rick Santorum - by 20 percentage points. Helped, in part, by the support of the last Republican presidential nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain.
And while all the attention was on Michigan throughout the night, NPR's Ted Robbins reports that in the all-important delegate count, the Arizona win counts for nearly as much.
TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Arizona's was a winner-take-all primary, so Mitt Romney came away with 29 delegates. That's roughly twice as many as he got in Michigan, which apportions its delegates by the outcome in each congressional district.
Now, because of party rules, it is possible that Romney could lose some of those Arizona delegates if they're challenged at the Republican convention. That could happen, because under national party rules, no state is allowed to have a winner-take-all primary until April. But for now, the delegate wins in Arizona and Michigan paled beside the bragging rights Romney won last night.
Arizona Senator John McCain told a crowd of Romney supporters, a bit optimistically, that the two-state win seals the deal.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: My friends, I tell you, tonight with a victory in Arizona and this victory in Michigan, it is in inevitable that the next president of the United States will be one Mitt Romney.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)
ROBBINS: McCain, the last Republican nominee, has been campaigning for Romney for months. And with the candidate holding his rally in Michigan, McCain stood in for him again in Arizona.
But the association with McCain was just one of a number of factors leading to Romney's easy win here. Although the primary was held yesterday, early voting actually began almost a month ago. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said 60 percent of Arizona Republican primary voters requested early ballot. That meant many of those ballots were cast before heavy advertising began, before Rick Santorum's surge elsewhere, even before last week's Republican debate in Mesa.
Arizona's was also a closed primary. Only registered Republicans could take part, eliminating cross-over voting that has helped other candidates elsewhere. Exit interviews also showed that voters thought Romney was the most qualified to handle what they see as the biggest issue facing the country.
AMY FRANCISCO: The economy.
COLLEEN LOMBARD: The economy.
MIKE D'ONOFRIO: I would say the economy is the primary, immediate issue.
ROBBINS: Those are the voices of Romney supporters Amy Francisco, Colleen Lombard(ph), and Mike D'Onofrio(ph). Actually, most indications are that Arizona's economy is improving, though it was down so far, it hasn't come back to pre-recession levels.
Illegal immigration, a signature issue in Arizona, didn't play a big part in the election, possibly because all the candidates took a hard line against it. All the candidates apparently expected Romney to win here as well since none did much campaigning in Arizona, though Mitt Romney did send two of his sons, Craig and Matt. Craig Romney told the crowd at the Hyatt Hotel that he'd never given a victory speech before. So he told a personal story about how as head of the Salt Lake Winter Olympics his dad rode down the skeleton track on a dare.
CRAIG ROMNEY: He didn't fall, he didn't hurt himself at all, and he got to the bottom, he asked his coach how he did. He said, you did pretty good. But he pointed down to his shoes and he had these two giant holes in the tops of his shoes, and you guys can guess what he was doing. He was dragging his feet the whole way, trying to slow himself down. He was terrified.
ROBBINS: Mitt Romney may not be terrified now, but he also knows that the rest of his ride through the primaries isn't going to be smooth sledding. It may even wear some more holes in his shoes.
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Phoenix.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.