Polls show Michigan primary a toss-up between Romney and Santorum

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are knotted atop the polls heading into Tuesday’s critical primary in Michigan.

Romney, whose father is a former Michigan governor, was once presumed to have a significant home-state advantage, but a slew of polling data released Monday suggests the contest that will be decided by the thinnest of margins.

Romney leads by 2 points in polls by Rasmussen and Public Policy Polling, while Santorum leads by 2 points in the latest Mitchell-Rosetta Stone survey.

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All of these polls have margins of error of at least 4 points.

According to conservative polling outlet Rasmussen, Romney leads with support from 38 percent of those polled, followed by Santorum at 36 percent, Ron Paul at 11 percent and Newt Gingrich at 10 percent.

Santorum narrowed the gap over the weekend, suggesting Romney has been unable to build a clear advantage since last Wednesday’s debate in Arizona, in which he and Paul battered the former Pennsylvania senator for his record in Congress.

Romney held a 6-point lead, 40 percent to 34 percent, over Santorum in the same poll released on Friday.

The former Massachusetts governor seemed to step on any momentum he had coming out of the debate. He delivered a speech at the nearly empty Ford Field in Detroit that not only fell flat but also provided additional fodder for his rivals to peg him as out of touch with the middle class because of his personal wealth.

A PPP poll released on Sunday had similar results, with Romney leading at 39 percent, followed by Santorum at 37 percent.

Santorum led the same poll last week, which was taken before the Arizona debate, 37 percent to 33 percent.

Romney has a sizeable lead in Michigan among those who have already voted.

According to PPP, 16 percent of likely voters have already cast their ballots, and they did so 62 percent to 29 percent in favor of Romney over Santorum.

Still, Santorum leads Romney among those who say that will vote on Tuesday, 39 percent to 34 percent.

The debate seems to have badly damaged Santorum in Michigan; he had briefly separated himself from the pack after his surprising three-state caucus sweeps in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.

But since the last PPP poll on Monday, Santorum’s favorability has declined by 29 points, even as Romney’s favorability has remained steady.

Last week, 67 percent of those polled in Michigan said they had a favorable view of Santorum, versus only 23 percent who had an unfavorable view. This week those numbers are down to 54 percent and 39 percent, while Romney remains at 57 percent favorable and 37 percent unfavorable.

“Momentum in Michigan is completely on Mitt Romney’s side,” Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, said in a statement. “He’s amassed a large lead with absentee voters and it will take a huge turnout on election day from Santorum voters to overcome that.”

However, a Mitchell Research-Rosetta Stone poll shows Santorum with the momentum, overtaking Romney during the weekend 37 percent to 35 percent.

“Romney’s strategy had been to win over all conservatives by hammering Santorum on the fact that he is not the fiscal conservative he claimed to be,” said Mitchell Research president Steve Mitchell in a statement. “Up until the weekend, that strategy seemed to be successful. However, Santorum’s push for conservatives in the past three days seems to have worked and they moved back to him, allowing him to re-take the lead. The volatility we thought had changed has not. The race remains very fluid.”

Romney led the same poll last week 36 percent to 33 percent, after briefly stealing support from Santorum’s key constituents — evangelical Christians, Tea Party supporters and the very conservative.

That support has swung back in favor of Santorum, according to the Mitchell-Rosetta poll.

While Michigan is a neck and neck race, Romney seems likely to win going away in Arizona, the other state holding a primary on Tuesday.

The former Massachusetts governor leads in Arizona with 43 percent, followed by Santorum at 26 percent, Gingrich at 18 percent and Paul at 11 percent, according to a PPP poll released on Monday.

That 17-point lead seems insurmountable because nearly half of those expected to vote have already cast their ballots, and Romney leads 39 percent to 27 percent among those who plan to vote on Tuesday.