Mitt Romney Notches Early, Expected Victory in Arizona Primary

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 9:37 PM EST

Minutes after polls closed in Arizona, Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the state's Republican presidential primary by multiple media outlets. The win adds 29 delegates to Romney's tally, bringing him to 159 overall. That's a lead of 118 delegates over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 119 over Romney's closest competitor, Rick Santorum. Exit polls in Arizona put Romney far ahead of Santorum, 43 percent to 28 percent.

Romney's win in Arizona comes as no surprise. He entered the primary with a 15 percentage point lead over Santorum, a gap that Santorum never came close to narrowing in recent days. Fighting on Romney's behalf was the super-PAC Restore Our Future, which spent $206,337 on ads attacking Gingrich and $452,712 bashing Santorum. The pro-Santorum super-PAC Red, White, and Blue Fund did not spend any money in the state.

Romney's Arizona win could help to quiet the growing chorus of critics questioning his conservative bona fides and broader appeal to the Republican base. But the more crucial test on Tuesday is Romney's performance in Michigan, his home state, where he faces a much tougher challenge from Rick Santorum.