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Romney cruises to victory in Arizona’s winner-take-all Republican primary

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PHOENIX – Mitt Romney swept to victory Tuesday in Arizona’s winner-take-all Republican primary, giving him a boost going into next week’s Super Tuesday primaries.

Coupled with his projected win in Michigan, where he was born and raised, Romney’s Arizona victory helped provide a much-needed check to Rick Santorum’s recent momentum.

Maricopa County GOP Chairman Tom Morrissey said Arizona endorsed the candidate best positioned to triumph in November.

“What can he do? Win,” Morrissey said at a party gathering. “Defeat Barack Obama, and that is our greatest motivator.”

In unofficial returns, Romney led Santorum by a margin of nearly 2-1, with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul trailing.

Romney garners 29 delegates from Arizona.

Stephen Nuño, an assistant professor with Northern Arizona University’s Department of Politics and International Affairs, said winning handily in Arizona gives Romney more clout in Super Tuesday states where immigration is an issue.

“For Romney to win Arizona pretty much solidifies his anti-immigration stance,” he said. “If you can convince Arizona that you’re anti-immigrant, I don’t know what other argument you need.”

The latest polls showed Romney with a solid lead here, and his campaign benefited from endorsements by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and, on Sunday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

Political experts said Romney had a stronger organization here than the other candidates, in part because of his 2008 campaign for the GOP nomination in which he placed second in Arizona behind McCain. They said he also had strong support from the state’s sizable Mormon population.

Kim Fridkin, a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies, said the media’s attention to Michigan’s significance overshadowed Arizona’s primary.

“I don’t think it’s going to really help him that much, but a loss here definitely would hurt his campaign,” she said.

Romney led all presidential candidates, including President Barack Obama, with $1.1 million in donations from Arizonans through the end of January. Top rival Santorum had received $46,000.

Bolstered by victories in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri and polls showing a tightening race here, Santorum made a late push for Arizona support. He attended rallies in Phoenix and Tucson before a Feb. 22 debate that brought all four candidates to Mesa.

The Green Party also held its presidential primary here Tuesday. Front-runner Jill Stein held a sizable lead.