Mara Liasson

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In the Michigan Republican primary Tuesday, Mitt Romney had a near-death experience, but he squeaked out a narrow victory over Rick Santorum. That, says veteran Republican strategist Ed Rogers, has calmed some of the anxiety in Republican circles about Romney's strength as a general election candidate.

"Mitt Romney did what he needed to do to give more certainty and more clarity to the race. He dodged a bullet; it was an ugly win," Rogers says. "It's not over. Santorum is still very competitive."

What's the best way for Mitt Romney to stop Rick Santorum?

For the answer, we went to someone who has done it before.

Democratic strategist Saul Shorr helped Bob Casey defeat then-Sen. Santorum, R-Pa., in a landslide in 2006. Santorum lost by 18 points.

But Shorr says that was a general election; in a Republican primary, Romney will have a much harder job.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's losses on Tuesday, while not very meaningful in the race to accumulate delegates, have raised questions once again about his ability to inspire passion from his party's base and about his viability in the general election.

Rival Rick Santorum's victories in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota dealt a setback, if not exactly a body blow, to Romney — whom Santorum routinely dismisses as a candidate with a big machine but no core.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's decisive win over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Florida returned him to the front-runner's spot in the Republican presidential race. Romney emerged from that battle with his strengths, but also his weaknesses, on full display.

Sometimes hard-fought nominating contests produce a more formidable general-election candidate. That's what happened to Barack Obama in 2008. But Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist, says it's too soon to tell whether this Republican primary battle will have the same effect.

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The mitts are off, so to speak, in the Republican presidential primary. Mitt Romney, the former front-runner, and his current and most serious rival, Newt Gingrich, are now engaged in an all-out war.

With only a few short weeks until voters in Iowa go to the caucuses, Romney is doing everything he can to stop Gingrich's sudden and surprising rise.

There are many flashpoints between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney as they battle for the Republican presidential nomination. Most of them are about character or leadership: Who can beat President Obama? Who's the real conservative?

But Gingrich and Romney do have one big policy difference — and that's on immigration.

The American electorate is getting more diverse, more educated and younger. These demographic trends seem to suggest that voters could, in theory at least, be more Obama-friendly in 2012, especially in some key states. But it's not clear whether these shifts can outweigh the dragging economy and the president's dismal approval ratings.

Voter dissatisfaction with both parties is at an all-time high — and voters' trust in Washington is at an all-time low.

This is the kind of political climate that is welcoming for an alternative to the Democrats and the Republicans.

Pollster Stan Greenberg worked for Bill Clinton in 1992, when third-party candidate Ross Perot roiled the race. If it happened back then, Greenberg says, it can happen again next year.

Three years ago, the state of Virginia flipped. It had voted for George W. Bush in 2004, but in 2008, it went for Barack Obama, with the help of independent voters like Emily Perri. But as Perri cast her ballot in local elections in Fairfax on Tuesday morning, she wasn't so sure she would vote for the president again.

"I'm not entirely positive, you know, another four years will help improve things or not under Obama," Perri said.

It's not clear yet whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will be a good thing or a bad thing for Democrats. That's why President Obama always treads carefully when asked about them.

"People are frustrated, and that frustration has expressed itself in a lot of different ways," he said Tuesday on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. "It expressed itself in the Tea Party. It's expressing itself in Occupy Wall Street."

Tuesday night's brawl of a debate in Las Vegas erased any doubt that the fight for the Republican presidential nomination would get bitter. Texas Gov. Rick Perry aggressively parried former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who looked rattled for the first time.

If that hand-to-hand combat continues, the Republican primary could just become a long, drawn-out fight. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing for the eventual nominee is unclear.

The former CEO of Godfather's Pizza has surprised a lot of people by rising to the top of the pack in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Herman Cain hasn't been traveling to many pancake breakfasts in Iowa or town halls in New Hampshire, but his polished speeches and debate performances have thrilled Republican voters.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry rocketed to the top of the field after he jumped in the race for the GOP nomination for president last month.

His early rise in the polls was based on what Republican voters thought they knew about him. But the debates gave Republicans a chance to see Perry in action — and the normally aggressive Texas governor has been forced into the uncomfortable position of defense.

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The Republican presidential candidates debate again Thursday night — this time in Orlando, Fla.

Mitt Romney, who comes to Florida as the former front-runner, is eager to find a way to knock the newest candidate in the race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, off his perch as the new GOP leader.

There's been a sea change at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It's almost as if the cerebral, detached president went into a phone booth and came out a fighting Democrat.

In the Rose Garden on Monday, as President Obama laid out his vision for how the congressional supercommittee could find trillions in savings, he was no longer above the fray. He was right in the fray. And he made it clear he has given up on his so far fruitless search for common ground with the Republicans.

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