Mitt Romney has taken a lead over Rick Santorum in Michigan according to two polls released Friday, just four days before that state's critical primary.
A loss in the state where his father served as governor would be a devastating blow to Romney, but the latest poll numbers offer his campaign some encouragement.
The latest survey from conservative polling outlet Rasmussen also shows Romney with the lead in Michigan. Romney has 40 percent of support, according to Rasmussen, followed by Santorum at 34 percent.
Santorum led the same poll last week by four points, which had many conservatives predicting chaos in the Republican primary if Romney couldn’t win the state where his father was once governor and where he lived until he was 18.
Romney turned in a strong performance in a pivotal GOP debate on Wedesday in Arizona, the site of another primary on Tuesday. It was the first debate in which Romney and Santorum were the clear central figures, and Santorum was battered by attacks from Paul and Romney over his record as a senator in Pennsylvania.
Romney also leads the polls in Arizona, which will likewise hold its primary on Feb. 28.
Another problem for Santorum has been stories about controversial remarks he's made in the past about Satan "attacking the great institutions of America." Such stories pose a danger to the candidate, who has surged on the basis of support from conservatives but who some Republicans doubt would be a strong challenger against President Obama in the fall.
A Gallup poll this week showed Obama with a 1-percentage-point lead on Santorum, but trailing Romney by 4 percentage points in head-to-head match-ups. Both polls were within the margin of error.
The former Pennsylvania senator was on the attack on Friday, hitting Romney hard with a new ad that says he is not on the side of Michigan workers. The advertisement could resonate with voters upset with Romney's opposition to the bailout of U.S. auto companies.
A pro-Santorum super-PAC is also purchasing ad time in several cities in Ohio, the site of a key primary on March 6 — known widely as Super Tuesday, when several states hold primary contests. Santorum hopes that a strong showing in Michigan will springboard him to success then.
But Friday's new polls suggest Romney remains the candidate to beat in Michigan.
Although his lead over Santorum is still within the Mitchell poll’s margin of error of 4.7 percent, Mitchell Research President Steve Mitchell said in a statement that Romney has “made big inroads with conservatives over the past 10 days.”
A victory for Romney in Michigan could lay to rest the lingering doubts that many Republicans have about his candidacy. Santorum catapulted to the lead in Michigan after scoring a clean sweep of victories in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on Feb. 8, and his rise was cheered by social conservatives who have long been skeptical of Romney.
In his recent surge, Santorum strongly outperformed Romney among Tea Party supporters, evangelical Christians and those who self-identify as “very conservative.”
But according to the Mitchell poll, Romney and Santorum are now tied among Tea Party supporters in Michigan, and Romney has posted significant gains against Santorum among evangelicals and conservatives.
In line with the volatile swings of the GOP primary season, the latest GOP debate seems to have been critical in boosting Romney’s poll numbers. Thirty-three percent said Romney won Wednesday’s debate, compared to only 13 percent who said Santorum was the winner.
—This story was posted at 9:54 a.m. and updated at 11:35 a.m.