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Originally published Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 8:52 PM

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Snapshot of challenges facing Romney

In narrowly backing Mitt Romney, the electorate that turned out Tuesday for Michigan's Republican presidential primary offered a snapshot...

The Washington Post

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In narrowly backing Mitt Romney, the electorate that turned out Tuesday for Michigan's Republican presidential primary offered a snapshot of the front-runner's strengths and weaknesses as he continues his quest to clinch the Republican nomination for president.

Romney, who was born and raised in Michigan, 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 November, according to preliminary exit polls in the state.

But he fared less well among "very conservative" voters, evangelical Christians and those who strongly support the tea-party movement — groups that have been slow to warm to the former Massachusetts governor.

Romney's support was weaker among working-class voters, a group that was split about evenly between Romney and his chief rival Rick Santorum, who actively courted those voters. Santorum defeated him among voters who have union members in their family.

Romney also won a slim margin of the fully 31 percent of voters who said their families had experienced a layoff in the past three years, despite his recent gaffes in talking about his wealth.

"It's just open mouth, insert foot. Sometimes he makes comments without thinking," said Nancy Repoz, 59, a small-business owner from Livonia.

Despite her frustration, she voted for Romney.

"He appeals to the business community, and he is going to focus on creating jobs," she said. "Santorum doesn't have much of a business background and I think we need that business approach."

Repoz was not alone in admiring Romney's business credentials; 57 percent of Michigan voters rated business experience as a better indicator of effectiveness than government experience, which dominates Santorum's résumé.

But about 14 percent of voters said that abortion was their top concern, a larger proportion than in any of the other states that have held primaries.

Of those voters, 77 percent backed Santorum, who has made social issues a centerpiece of his campaign.

"Society has social issues, and someone has to talk about them," said Nanci Burnham, 51, a church treasurer from Farmington Hills who voted for Santorum.

"He's courageous, and I don't think he will compromise. He is a contrast to what we have now, and we need that."

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