Sunday, January 13, 2008

McCain, Romney See Big Battleground in Michigan

The Michigan Republican primary is shaping up to be a truly crucial contest.

Henry Payne of the Detroit News,
in an essay over at the Wall Street Journal, suggests that Michigan's decision to advance its primary earlier in the calendar is not as significant as party officials had hoped, at least on the Democratic side.

With the decline of automobile manufacturing, the Wolverine State's lost political clout, a fact of political life exploited by Chrysler 300-driving Barack Obama, whose hypocritical envirnomental pandering is not lost on Michigan political observers:

As their industrial union base has shrunk, Democrats have forsaken blue collars for green elites....

Most emblematic of the shift is Barack Obama, senator for Archer Daniels Midland, the corporate behemoth from Illinois that turns corn into ethanol. Thanks to the ethanol mandates Mr. Obama supports, ADM has been racking up profits.

In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club last May, Mr. Obama could barely hide his contempt for auto execs in attendance. The "change candidate" -- who had a gas-guzzling, powerful Chrysler 300 in his garage -- lit into the Big Three for producing the very vehicles he uses: "While foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American auto makers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars. The auto industry is on a path that is unacceptable and unsustainable. And America must take action to make it right."

So much for discussing "Michigan issues."
It's the Republican primary, however, that's turning out to be a decisive breakneck affair:
Mike Murphy, a Republican campaign guru who cut his teeth in Michigan, says the state is the candidates' first true test because of its demographics. Michigan is a quilt of inner city blacks, suburban businessmen, Reagan Democrats, religiously conservative reformers and liberal college towns.

The state's unique mix of voters has produced surprises in the past. Eight years ago, Mr. McCain won the state's primary despite George W. Bush's strength nationally. Mr. McCain looks to do well again, but must contend with Mr. Huckabee, who has caught fire with west Michigan's vast grassroots evangelical network. Even without much of an organization in the state, he has made this a three-man race, says veteran Michigan pollster Steve Mitchell. Mr. Huckabee's theme -- "Americans want a president who reminds them of the guy they worked with, not the guy that laid them off" -- resonates here.

John McCain and Mitt Romney will likely refight the 2000 McCain/Bush battle. Like Mr. Bush, who won Republicans by a 2-1 margin, Mr. Romney is pushing to get out the GOP vote, and is trying to exploit the fact that his father was once a popular governor here.

But with an uncompetitive Democratic contest, Mr. Mitchell predicts that, as in New Hampshire, Mr. McCain will reap votes from independents and crossover Democrats, which he carried by respective margins of 2-1 and 3-1 eight years ago.

Mr. Romney's best chance is to go after Mr. McCain for his flip-flops on the Bush tax cuts. Michigan is aflame with anti-tax sentiment at the moment because Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm pushed through a big income tax increase last fall, sparking recall campaigns.

As the country has moved left in recent elections, Michigan too has become more reliably blue and ceased to be a swing state. But after two small, beauty pageant primaries, the Republican survivor of Michigan will deserve the crown of 2008 frontrunner.
Who's going to get that frontrunner crown?

John McCain had pulled ahead of Mitt Romney in midweek polling, but this weekend's survey data is showing a tossup.

A Detroit News poll out today shows a statistical dead-heat for the GOP in Michigan (via Memeorandum):

With just two days left before the primary, Michigan's volatile Republican presidential race is going down to the wire for frontrunners John McCain and Mitt Romney.

And Mike Huckabee is still a factor.

A Detroit News/WXYZ Action News poll shows McCain with 27 percent, Romney at 26 percent; and Huckabee at 19 percent. All three campaigned in Michigan on Saturday. McCain, a senator from Arizona, and Michigan-born Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, are scheduled to continue their sprint drive Sunday. Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, is campaigning in South Carolina on Sunday, but is expected to return to Michigan on Monday, election eve.

The poll shows not just a statistical tie, but a full 45 percent of those surveyed remain undecided. Thus, this weekend's campaigning will be a key factor in Tuesday's vote, as well as the ground-game efficacy of the respective campaigns.

Also out today is
another survey from the Detroit Free Press:

Republican primary voters whose greatest concern is the economy could give Bloomfield Hills native Mitt Romney his first major state victory in Tuesday’s Michigan presidential primary, according to the Detroit Free Press-Local 4 Michigan Poll.

Romney leads John McCain, 27%-22%, with Mike Huckabee in third at 16%, the poll showed. Romney’s core of support is in metro Detroit, where he has a 2-1 advantage.

Of the 40% who named the economy as their top concern, Romney had a 42%-25% advantage over McCain. McCain wins by about the same margin over Romney among the 24% of Republican voters whose top issue is the Iraq war.

But Romney's lead could evaporate, depending on how tentative, undecided and uncommitted voters lean over the next two days. About 38% of voters who had a favorite said they might change their mind by Tuesday. Another 22% hadn't picked a candidate.

We see again - as with the Detroit News survey - the key role undecideds will play Tuesday.

What may be even more important is the role of Michigan's independents. The state issues non-partisan ballots, and independents may cross-over to vote in either major party primary.

A heavy crossover vote presumably favors McCain, who has polled well among independents. But former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and his economic populist message might hit home here as well.

Either way, an independent surge likely damages former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who does best among pure Republicans.

A McClatchy/MSNBC poll vote finds McCain the preference of 38 percent of independents and Democrats, while Huckabee had 22 percent and Romney taking 18 percent.

At this point, the vote appears wide open, and considerable skepticism over the polling trends is warranted.

Watch out for the unexpected, in any case: Michigan's unemployment rate is the highest in the nation at 7.4 percent, and the results Tuesday may again upset all consensus views, given the volatility of economic issues in the sate.

Photo Credit: New York Times