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Just a week ago, Michigan’s Feb. 28 primary seemed destined to become a perfunctory vote in Mitt Romney’s apparently clear path to become the GOP presidential nominee.

Romney, who grew up in Bloomfield Hills, had eked out a victory in the Iowa caucuses, won handily in New Hampshire’s primary and was topping the polls in South Carolina.

But this weekend shook up the campaign trajectory as Iowa’s Republican Party declared former Sen. Rick Santorum the winner, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pulled off an impressive come-from-behind triumph in the Palmetto State.

With three winners in three states, Michigan’s contest becomes more critical and will fuel momentum heading into the Super Tuesday delegate bonanza on March 6.

“Clearly, Michigan’s role was elevated (Saturday) night,” said Stu Sandler, a consultant for the Michigan Republican Party.

Gingrich, already written off twice, won 40 percent to Romney’s 28 percent Saturday. Empowered by strong debate performances, where he managed to turn a question about marital infidelity into an attack on what he called the elite liberal media, Gingrich ignited two standing ovations in as many debates. Romney, meanwhile, fumbled on lingering questions about releasing his income tax returns.

Debates continue tonight and again Thursday as the contest shifts to Florida, a larger, more diverse and more expensive state. Once again, Gingrich must overcome financial and organizational disadvantages as he did in South Carolina. Romney must deliver convincing debate performances and not let Gingrich steal the show.

It takes 1,144 delegates to win the contest. On Feb. 28, Michigan (30) and Arizona (29) together will have 59 delegates at stake. Between Florida’s Jan. 31 primary and Michigan’s race, there are five contests: Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota. Only Nevada has delegates at stake, Putnam said, since the rest are nonbinding and amount to “essentially a straw poll,” he said.

Romney has an established campaign network in Florida and in Michigan, where his father was a popular three-term governor in the 1960s. Texas Rep. Ron Paul already has a campaign office here, too.

Michigan likely is a “must win” for Romney, said John Truscott, a GOP strategist and former press secretary to Gov. John Engler. If he doesn’t carry the state like he did in 2008, it would be a serious blow to his campaign and momentum heading into Super Tuesday, Truscott said.

Read this article in it’s entirety by Marisa Schultz in Detroit News

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