Romney's decisive win in Michigan scrambles G.O.P. field
Now, the Republican presidential nomination battle shifts from the typical tack of achieving inevitability to one where candidates work to amass the most delegates.
Mitt Romney scored a decisive victory in Michigan Tuesday night, beating out Sen. John McCain in a race many viewed as a must-win for Mr. Romney to remain viable for the Republican presidential nomination.Skip to next paragraph
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"Tonight is a victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism," he told cheering supporters in his victory speech, continuing the Washington-outsider image he has cultivated in recent weeks.
It is Romney's first major win, and it leaves a wide-open Republican race even more murky, as the candidates head into South Carolina's primary on Saturday. Romney, Senator McCain, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee each have one victory under their belt.
"The Republican party has gone from confusion to uncertainty," says Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. "There's no clear front-runner, and the race is going to be very exciting for the next couple of weeks, at least."
Romney took in 39 percent of the vote, compared with 30 percent for McCain and 16 percent for Governor Huckabee. Less attention was paid to the Democratic primary, where Hillary Rodham Clinton won 55 percent of the vote, compared with 40 percent for "uncommitted." The other major Democratic candidates had taken their names off the ballot after the national Democratic party chastised Michigan for moving its primary up in the calendar.
Romney seemed to be helped by several factors in Michigan, including his own status as native son whose father was a three-term governor and chairman of American Motors Corporation. In the past week, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, worked to remind Michiganders that he was one of them.
His rallies and TV ads focused heavily on the economy, an issue of particular concern in Michigan, which is already in recession with a 7.4 percent unemployment rate.
Exit polls showed that 55 percent of voters considered the economy to be the most important issue, compared with 17 percent who cited the Iraq war and 13 percent who said illegal immigration. Among those voting on the economy, Romney beat McCain 42 percent to 29 percent.
Romney also benefited from Michigan's relatively low turnout and that few independents – a group that generally favored McCain and who many expected would come out in large numbers – voted in the primary. The large numbers of Michiganders who made up their mind in the past three days favored Romney as well.
McCain made several big errors in the state, including his "straight talk" admission that some of the jobs lost in Michigan aren't coming back and his overt appeal to independents and Democrats, says Bill Ballenger, editor of the "Inside Michigan Politics" newsletter. "Romney came in and seized the economic issue and he really went after it – it's such a big factor here compared to the first two states," says Mr. Ballenger. "Even though McCain was the guy with the foreign-policy credentials, the fact is that the war on terror and Iraq are way down the list from the economy here in Michigan."