WASHINGTON: Conso-lidating his front-runner status, Mr Mitt Romney has won two crucial Republican primaries against Mr Rick Santorum in Arizona and Michigan ahead of the March 6 'Super Tuesday' contests in the keenly-fought US Presidential nomination race within the party.
With 99 per cent of Michigan's precincts reporting, the former Massachusetts Governor, Mr Romney had secured 41 per cent against Mr Santorum's 38 per cent.
In Arizona, with 88 per cent of precincts reporting, Mr Romney had bagged 47 per cent against Mr Santorum's 27 per cent.
Mr Romney needed to win both states, but especially Michigan, his native state, to assert his ability to overcome the conservative challenge posed by the former Pennsylvania Senator, Mr Santorum.
"I stand ready to lead our party to victory and our nation back to prosperity," Mr Romney told a jubilant crowd of supporters. "It's a critical time in America."
"We didn't win by a lot, but we won by enough. And that's all that counts," Mr Romney said.
A Santorum victory in Michigan would have raised questions about how strong a candidate Mr Romney is within his own party.
Now all eyes are on Super Tuesday, March 6, when primaries are scheduled in about 10 States. A major victory next week would almost seal Mr Romney's nomination, experts say.
Mr Romney has so far won contests in six states — New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada, Maine, Michigan and Arizona — in the race to secure Republican nomination for the November Presidential polls.
"This is a decisive moment; I believe this is a time that requires real leadership in our country. Times are tough. We need leaders who will live with integrity, who have the courage to tell the truth, and have the experience to get our economy back
"That's the kind of leader I aspire to be; that's the kind of leader I will be if I'm President of the United States," he said.
Running close second to Mr Romney in Michigan, Mr Santorum called it a sign of success.
"A month ago, they didn't know who we are, but they do now," Santorum said.
"We all have that responsibility, to make both work and work as well as we can, and it's getting harder out here in America. It's getting harder for people to make ends meet, because we have a government that is crushing us every single day with more taxes, more regulations, and the idea that they know better than you how to run your life," he said.
"We need a President who's on the side of rural America, who's on the side of small-town America, and opens up those energy resources for America," he added.
Two other candidates, the former House of Representatives Speaker, Mr Newt Gingrich and Mr Ron Paul, made little effort in either state, pointing instead to next week's Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses.
Mr Gingrich said the challenge is to present a clear and compelling alternative so that the country has a really clear sense of what the difference is.