Santorum maintains slight lead in Michigan in new polls

COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 18: Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a Tea Party rally February 18, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. Santorum is campaigning in Ohio ahead of the March 6 state primary. Photo by Jay LaPrete/Getty Images

Santorum
Photo by Jay LaPrete/Getty Images

The latest polls out of Michigan show Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum maintaining his slight lead over Mitt Romney, less than a week before the critical primary.

Santorum leads among likely Republican primary voters with 38 percent, according to a new American Research Group poll, while Romney takes 34 percent. The poll, conducted February 21-22, shows Ron Paul with 12 percent support and Newt Gingrich with 7 percent. Santorum's lead over Romney is within the poll's four point margin of error.

Similarly, a Detroit Free Press-WXYZ-TV poll conducted February 18-21 shows Santorum leading over Romney 37 percent to 34 percent, within the poll's 4.9-point margin of error. Paul garnered 10 percent support while Gingrich took 7 percent.

Santorum surged to the lead in Michigan after his surprise victories in a trio of nominating contests earlier this month -- even though Romney has strong ties to the state. A loss in Michigan could be devastating to Romney's campaign.

While Santorum is still leading there, Romney has closed in on his lead, and these polls were conducted before the nationally televised Republican debate in Arizona Wednesday night. It's possible the debate -- which left Santorum largely on the defensive -- could have an impact on voters' preferences before the voting begins.

Speaking to voters in Phoenix today, it was clear Romney was pleased with how the debate went.

"Now who watched the debate last night?" Romney asked. "It was kind of fun. I enjoyed it... It was kind of an interesting night... What happened was we saw in this case Sen. Santorum explain most of the night why he did or voted for things he disagreed with."

In the Detroit Free Press poll, 45 percent said they would consider changing their minds before the February 28 primary, and 12 percent said they were still undecided.

Still, in both of the new polls, Santorum leads among the base of the Republican party. In the Free Press poll, he leads Romney 46 percent to 27 percent among self-described conservatives. In the ARG poll, 49 percent of voters who say they support the Tea Party back Santorum, while 31 percent back Romney.

The Detroit Free Press endorsed Romney today, but the endorsement was a back-handed compliment at best. The editorial said the endorsement should have been a "slam dunk," but instead went on to criticize Romney for "refashioning himself as something other than what his record suggests."

The paper said Romney was "dead wrong" for opposing the auto bailout and charged that, "To compete with stauncher conservatives of lesser achievement and stature, Romney has essentially played down to their level."

With reporting from CBS News/ National Journal reporter Sarah B. Boxer

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