Michigan for Mitt: A Slim Victory

Against a tough opponent, Romney squeaked out a win in his birth state. What's next?

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Maybe those trees were the right height after all.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney made good on his plan to be the prodigal son come home in triumph on Tuesday night, winning the Michigan primary and besting former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with a victory that was close but convincing.

"We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough. And that's all that counts," Romney told supporters late Tuesday in Novi, Mich., about 30 miles from Detroit.

Romney won by 3 percentage points, 41 percent to 38 percent, a slim margin of victory that may have been different if not for Democrats who voted in the state's open primary -- Democrats encouraged to vote for Santorum in a series of so-called robocalls bankrolled by Santorum's super PAC supporters. (Update: As of Wednesday evening a number of news outlets, including NBC News, were reporting that even though Romney won the popular vote, he and Santorum would split the number of Michigan delegates, 15-15. However, Thursday it was revealed that delegates would be split 16-14 in favor of Romney.)

About 9 percent of primary-goers Tuesday identified themselves as Democrats, according to Washington Post exit polls, and more than half of those cast their ballots for Santorum.

Romney's victory may not completely rebuild the scaffold of inevitability his campaign has been constructing since his campaign began. But the win in Michigan, where Romney was born in 1947, fortifies a presidential bid recently beset by gaffes of campaign optics and by a late Santorum challenge.

Now the challenge for Romney is to go beyond the expected cohorts of his support -- something that may prove problematic as the campaign rolls into Super Tuesday next week.

In a nutshell, Romney did well where he should have done well. His support among higher-income Michigan residents was understandably strong, coming as it did among the people who share Romney's wealth and his concerns for the deficit and the wider economy.

Sandhya Somashekhar and Nia-Malika Henderson, reporting late Tuesday in the Washington Post and sampling from voter exit polls, found that Romney "performed well among declared Republicans, voters with incomes above $100,000 a year, those whose top concerns were the federal deficit and the economy, and those keen on beating President Obama in the fall, according to preliminary exit polls in the state.

Romney also didn't bring the message with the blue-collar voters of Wayne County, home to Detroit and the U.S. automotive industry -- the same industry that Romney seemed to abandon in a November 2008 New York Times op-ed that called for Motor City to face the ignominy of bankruptcy.