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A GOP primary pattern emerges

Image: Mitt Romney
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Flint, Mich., Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012. Gerald Herbert / AP
/ Source: NBC News

If you're predicting who will win tomorrow's crucial Michigan primary, the trend of this GOP presidential contest — forget about the polling and campaign body language — points to an obvious choice.

Mitt Romney.

While the Republican nominating season has been one of the wildest and most unpredictable in memory, there has been a pretty clear pattern since the Iowa caucuses back in early January: Just when it looks like Romney is about pull away with the nomination, he loses.

And just when it appears that his back is against the wall and when he needs a win, he does.

So after his apparent win after Iowa and decisive victory in New Hampshire, it seemed that he was about to wrap up the GOP nomination, and that the general election was about to commence. Indeed, no non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate had won BOTH Iowa and New Hampshire.

But then we discovered he didn't win Iowa after all (Rick Santorum did), and then Newt Gingrich beat him by double digits in South Carolina.

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And when it looked like his candidacy was on the ropes — if Gingrich beat him in Florida — Romney easily won in Florida. Then he won Nevada, too.

Once again, some pundits proclaimed Romney was on his way to becoming the inevitable nominee. And guess what: He lost the next contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri to Santorum.

Those three races fueled Santorum's momentum, with some polling showing the possibility that Santorum could beat Romney in his old backyard of Michigan, jeopardizing the former Massachusetts governor's chances of winning the GOP nomination.

Yet if Romney wins in Michigan — as well as Arizona — tomorrow night, the trend will continue: He'll win after being backed into a corner.

(And then, if the trend continues, perhaps we'll see Romney underperform in next week's Super Tuesday contests.)

There's been another pattern for Romney: His gaffes and unforced errors have often come before — or just after — some of his biggest victories. So it was right before his victory in New Hampshire when he uttered the words "I like being able to fire people" (in the context of talking about health insurers).

Then it was after his victory in Florida when he said, "I am not concerned about the very poor."

And if he ends up winning tomorrow in Michigan, his recent comments about his wife owning two Cadillacs and having "some friends who are NASCAR team owners" could very well shape the upcoming Super Tuesday contests next week.