Republicans Poised for Battle in Michigan Primary

Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have voiced their preferences in the presidential race. Now, voters in Michigan go to the polls on Tuesday in a contest that focuses primarily on the Republicans. That's because the National Democratic Party stripped Michigan of its delegates for trying to hold its primary before Iowa and New Hampshire.

The election is a chance for John McCain to build momentum, and a possible last-ditch effort for Mitt Romney.

Tracy Samilton reports from member station WUOM in Ann Arbor.

What's at Stake in the Michigan Primary?

Did You Know?

Michigan voters can cross party lines to participate in the primary of their choice. University of Michigan political science professor Vincent Hutchings says this could help GOP hopeful Sen. John McCain (AZ), particularly if a large number of independents and registered Democrats support him as they did in 2000 — a good prospect, given that the Democrats are not holding a full-fledged primary.

Even though Republicans are targeting the state's primary, Michigan has voted for a Democratic president in the last four general elections.

Here's a guide to what's at stake for the candidates in Michigan's presidential primaries Jan. 15, and the issues that will be on voters' minds.

REPUBLICAN PRIMARY

Candidates: Ex-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (NY), Ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR), Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA), Sen. John McCain (AZ), Rep. Ron Paul (TX), Ex-Gov. Mitt Romney (MA), Ex-Sen. Fred Thompson (TN)

What's at Stake: Romney and McCain are pinning their presidential hopes on Michigan, where both have strong ties. Romney grew up there; his father also served as the state's governor in the 1960s. McCain won the primary there in 2000.

Both candidates must do well in Michigan. McCain needs to prove his campaign is bigger than the New Hampshire primary. Romney needs to prove he's still viable, having placed second in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But polls show Huckabee is also a contender. Repeating his strategy in Iowa, he is hoping to appeal to the state's Christian conservatives. Huckabee is trying to woo them with a message of economic populism, in addition to his religious values.

Romney is now focusing his campaign exclusively on Michigan, running ads and spending his time there. His new ads focus on what he calls "Michigan values," as well as his ties to the state. The McCain campaign has joked that anyone who remembers Romney's father as governor has probably moved to Arizona by now.

Thompson has been focusing on the Jan. 19 Republican primary in South Carolina, where he hopes to win back some of the support he has recently ceded to Huckabee. Giuliani has been spending his time campaigning in Florida — whose Jan. 29 primary has become the focal point of his campaign, as his standing in national polls has plummeted from first to third.

The Issues: Michigan's unemployment rate is higher than the nation's — 7.5 percent compared with the national average of 5 percent, according to U.S. Department of Labor figures from December. The economy is a major issue for Michigan voters — the state's auto industry continues to shrink.

In his campaign stops there, McCain has promised to create a job-retraining program centered around community colleges, to replace existing federal programs that he says do not work. Romney has suggested that, as a businessman, he has the know-how to revive jobs in that hard-hit state. And Huckabee is running ads in Michigan that use the line he tried in New Hampshire: Voters want a president who reminds them of a co-worker, not the guy who laid them off.

DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY

Candidates: Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY), Ex-Sen. Mike Gravel (AK), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH)

What's at Stake: The state Democratic Party's effort to move up the primary date was a complete bust. It resulted in sanctions from the Democratic National Committee and warnings to the candidates not to campaign there. Clinton is the only front-runner candidate on the ballot, so coming in first could prove meaningless. Major contenders for the Democratic nomination have not been campaigning there.

With reporting from NPR Staff and the Associated Press

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