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.
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"When I lived here, Michigan was the envy of the world," Romney tells a group of cheering supporters during a rally at the Battle Creek airport. "Our roots are very deep here, and I will not rest as president until Michigan is mended again, and the pride of the nation."Skip to next paragraph
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It's a message that resonates with some here, especially those who are more conservative or who are old enough to remember his father.
"We need a manager and we need a leader," says Sandy Morgan, as she waits with her husband for a Romney rally to begin. They attended the Salt Lake City Olympics, she says, and "it was smooth as silk." McCain, as far as she's concerned, is "a liberal – a wolf in sheep's clothing."
All three candidates are focusing heavily on Michigan's economy, with slightly different tacks. John McCain reinforced his "straight-talker" image as he admitted that many lost manufacturing jobs are not likely to come back. Instead, he emphasized job retraining and education to help those laid off.
Governor Huckabee, like Romney, waxed nostalgic for the state's glory days and remembered when Michigan manufacturing plants were able to shift gears to make weapons for World War II.
Huckabee's surge has been a surprise to many political observers. Michigan is a moderate state, with less of a religious base than Iowa, where Huckabee won the caucuses. But some 20 to 30 percent of Republicans who vote in the Michigan primary consider themselves evangelical, and Huckabee is doing well among many in that group.
He's also finding fertile ground in his appeal to blue-collar workers. Many support his plan to replace income and other taxes with an across-the-board consumption tax, the "fair tax" proposal. "I'm a small-business owner, and that would help my business so much," says Tim Palomaki, a service provider for the auto industry, at a Huckabee rally with his wife and three children.
Samantha McCrea, an X-ray technician, says when she casts her vote for Huckabee on Tuesday it will be the first time she's ever voted for a Republican. She likes the way he appeals to her "faith in the nation" and his authenticity.
"I like that he doesn't change from debate to debate," she says. Ms. McCrea's vote represents one of the big wild cards in Tuesday's election. Any Michigander can vote in the primary, regardless of party affiliation. Eight years ago, independents helped deliver the state to McCain over George W. Bush. This time, even more independents and Democrats may choose to vote in the Republican primary since the Democratic contest has less meaning: Hillary Rodham Clinton is the only major candidate whose name is on the ballot.
Charlotte Houseman, a retired English teacher at the Huckabee rally, says she's generally a Clinton supporter, but because the Democratic primary matters less, she's likely to vote for McCain – whom she also likes. "I might be a switch-over," she says.
A large showing by such independents and Democrats could have a big influence on the race, says Bill Ballenger, editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter. "Will most of those voters go to John McCain? Probably they will, but Huckabee might cut into that. Romney would be the loser in that scenario. It's more the rank and file that find Romney appealing."