Romney wins convincing Michigan victory
Romney wins convincing Michigan victory
By LIZ SIDOTI and GLEN JOHNSON, Associated Press
Writers 4 minutes ago
DETROIT - Mitt Romney scored his first major primary
victory Tuesday, a desperately needed win in his
native Michigan that gave his weakened presidential
candidacy new life. It set the stage for a wide-open
Republican showdown in South Carolina in just four
Three GOP candidates now have won in the first four
states to vote in the 2008 primary season, roiling a
nomination fight that lacks a clear favorite as the
race moves south for the first time.
The former Massachusetts governor defeated John
McCain, the Arizona senator who was hoping that
independents and Democrats would join Republicans to
help him repeat his 2000 triumph here. Mike Huckabee,
the former Arkansas governor, trailed in third, and
former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson is making a last
stand in South Carolina.
"It's a victory of optimism over Washington-style
pessimism," Romney said in an Associated Press
telephone interview from Southfield, Mich., echoing
his campaign speeches and taking a poke at McCain, the
four-term senator he beat. "Now on to South Carolina,
Minimizing the significance of Tuesday's vote, McCain
said he had called Romney to congratulate him "that
Michigan welcomed their native son with their
"Starting tomorrow, we're going to win South Carolina,
and we're going to go on and win the nomination,"
McCain declared, also in an AP interview from
Huckabee, too, already campaigning in the next primary
state, predicted in Lexington, S.C., he would "put a
flag in the ground here Saturday." He also jabbed at
Romney, who has poured at least $20 million of his
personal fortune into his bid: "We need to prove that
electing a president is not just about how much money
a candidate has."
In Michigan, with most precincts reporting, Romney had
39 percent of the vote, McCain had 30 percent and
Huckabee 16 percent. No other Republican fared better
than single digits.
Previously, Huckabee had won leadoff Iowa, and McCain
had taken New Hampshire. Romney won scarcely contested
Hillary Rodham Clinton was the only top contender on
the Democratic ballot Tuesday. With most precincts
counted, she had 56 percent of the vote to 39 percent
for uncommitted delegates to the Democratic National
Romney's ties to Michigan proved beneficial.
Four in 10 voters said his roots factored into their
decisions, and 58 percent of that group backed him,
according to preliminary results from surveys of
voters as they left their polling places, taken for
The AP and the networks. He also led among voters who
said the economy (42 percent) and illegal immigration
(39 percent) were their most important issues, and won
the most Republicans (41 percent), conservatives (41
percent), evangelicals (34 percent) and voters looking
for a candidate with experience (52 percent) or shared
their values (37 percent).
McCain had an edge with those who wanted an authentic
president (43 percent), and he won among moderates (40
percent), independents (35 percent) and Democrats. But
fewer non-Republican voters participated in the GOP
primary this year than in 2000 when those voters
helped him beat George W. Bush. Independents and
Democrats accounted for roughly one-third of the vote,
compared with about one half eight years ago.
Romney had a slight edge over McCain as the candidate
likeliest to bring needed change, 32 percent to 28
The economy proved the most important issue for
Republicans in Michigan, the state with the highest
unemployment rate in the nation and an ailing auto
industry. Given four choices, 55 percent of Michigan
Republican primary voters picked the economy as the
most important issue, while 17 percent picked Iraq, 13
percent immigration and 11 percent terrorism.
A mere 20 percent or less of eligible voters were
expected to show up at polling stations across frigid
and snowy Michigan, the turnout depressed in part by
the Democratic race of little to no consequence.
For Republicans, the stakes varied.
Of the three candidates competing hard here, Romney
needed a Michigan victory the most to invigorate a
campaign crippled by searing losses in Iowa and New
Hampshire. He was the only one who watched the voting
returns in Michigan; his top Michigan opponents,
McCain and Huckabee, campaigned in the state earlier
in the day but left by afternoon to plant themselves
in next-up South Carolina.
Up for grabs in Michigan were 30 Republican delegates.
Romney campaigned in the state far more than his
rivals and spent more than $2 million in TV ads in
Michigan, nearly three times what McCain did,
according to an analysis of presidential advertising
by the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
McCain paid for more than $740,00 in ads and Huckabee
spent more than $480,000.
Feeling optimistic in the run-up to the Michigan
voting, Romney went back on the air with TV ads in
South Carolina after a brief hiatus.
A muddle from the start, the GOP race has grown ever
more fluid as the first states voted over the past two
Romney was second to Huckabee in the Iowa caucuses and
to McCain in New Hampshire's primary while Huckabee
dropped to third. Thompson is camping out in South
Carolina looking for his first win. Rudy Giuliani is
doing the same in Florida, which votes Jan. 29.
The former New York mayor got only 3 percent of the
Michigan vote, trailing Thompson and Texas Rep. Ron
Paul as well as the top three, and he hasn't fared
better than fourth in any of the states so far. Yet,
the fractured GOP field plays into his strategy of
lying in wait and making his move in Florida in
the run-up to Feb. 5 when some two dozen states vote.
Romney was born and raised in Michigan, and his late
father, George, was head of American Motors and a
three-term governor in the 1960s. The younger Romney
announced his presidential candidacy in the state a
McCain had a built-in advantage of his own. He won the
state's primary eight years ago on the strength of
independent and Democratic-crossover voters, and he
still had a network of hard-core backers. Six months
after his campaign nearly collapsed, he now leads
Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, had
hoped to stage a surprise finish with the support of
Christian evangelicals who live in the more
conservative, western part of the state. With his
populist pitch, Huckabee also wanted to do well in
Reagan Republican country outside of Detroit.
The economy dominated the weeklong Michigan campaign.
The state has been reeling from the U.S. auto
industry's downturn and has the nation's highest
unemployment rate at 7.4 percent.
Michigan doesn't typically hold its primary until
February but state party officials scheduled it
earlier to try to give the state more say in picking a
president. The Republican National Committee objected
and cut the number of Michigan delegates to the
national convention by half as punishment while the
Democratic National Committee stripped the state of
all 156 delegates to its national convention,
including 28 superdelegates who would not have been
bound by the outcome of the primary.
Liz Sidoti reported from Washington. Associated Press
writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Alan Fram in Washington,
Libby Quaid in Warren, Mich.; David Eggert in Traverse
City, Mich., and Sara Kugler in New Smyrna Beach,
Fla., contributed to this report.