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In Michigan, three in tight G.O.P. race

The state's economic woes are the central focus for Romney, McCain, and Huckabee before Tuesday's primary.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 14, 2008

Native son: Mitt Romney with his wife, Ann. Romney's father, shown in the portrait, was Michigan's governor in the 1960s.

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Grand Rapids and Battle Creek, Mich.

Just three days before Michigan's Republican primary, Van Siegling still can't make up his mind.

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A Department of Defense worker who attended the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College, he admires Sen. John McCain's war position and military experience.

As someone concerned about Michigan's plummeting economy – he figures his home has lost $20,000 in value in less than two years – he's drawn to native Michigander Mitt Romney. He likes Mr. Romney's promise of using private-sector ideas to make government run more efficiently.

"I'm leaning toward McCain because of the military angle," says Mr. Siegling, a Kalamazoo resident. "But running government as a business? That would be true change as opposed to just talking about change."

The next key test in a wide-open GOP contest hinges upon people like Siegling and no clear favorite has emerged. Mr. Romney is a native son whose father was a popular three-term governor here in the 1960s.

Senator McCain won this state's presidential primary in 2000, and has a surge of momentum coming off his recent New Hampshire win. He hopes to benefit from independent and Democratic voters crossing over to vote in the GOP primary.

And former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who didn't even have a campaign presence in Michigan a week ago, has found a welcome audience for his message of economic populism in a state already in recession.

"It's a three-way tie," says Ed Sarpolus, an independent pollster in Lansing, Mich. "And I can easily point out the positives and negatives for all three of them."

In most recent polls, McCain and Romney have been neck and neck, with Huckabee trailing slightly. But many voters are still uncertain: Two polls over the weekend showed that about half of Michigan voters are either undecided or may change their mind before Tuesday's contest. Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Sen. Fred Thompson, and Rep. Ron Paul are polling in single digits.

McCain, Romney, and Huckabee all have a lot at stake in this primary – the first big state to weigh in – though none more so than Romney. After two second-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire – despite spending more money than any other candidate – Michigan is Romney's best chance before Super Tuesday, when 22 states weigh in, to show that he can win. It's a state where he has name recognition and family history, where he owns one of his three homes and has already spent some $3 million on television ads.

"Everything's riding on it for Romney," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "At a certain point, you really do have to win."

In his rallies here, Romney is doing everything he can to remind people of his ties to the state and convince them that he'll have Michigan's interests at heart if he takes office.

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