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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The Republican race for president took another turn last night. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won the Michigan primary, becoming the third candidate to win in the first three big tests of the GOP calendar.

Joining us now to talk about the results and the wide-open Republican seal is NPR News analyst Juan Williams.

Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Not just a big win, but a big reprieve for Mitt Romney.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. Mitt Romney has now won the gold for as he organized the Olympics, you know? And so now he talks in those terms, and he's won the gold now in Michigan and Wyoming. And it looks like he's ahead going in to this weekend in Nevada.

What we saw yesterday was that he won, largely, around the Detroit metropolitan area, high-income Republican voters, those who weren't less than 50,000, a real split between Romney and John McCain. But if you had more than 50,000, you were strongly in the Romney camp and certainly among people who were self-identified Republicans. Romney did very well. So he comes out with the 39 to 30 victory. Huckabee ended up with about 16 percent of the vote, but a very strong victory for Mitt Romney.

MONTAGNE: And with his ability to finance his campaign, he is right back in the thick if it, isn't he?

WILLIAMS: He is. So we have now three winners, Renee. We've had Huckabee - Mike Huckabee in Iowa winning based on social conservatives and with immigration as the big issue. We've seen John McCain do very well with independents. Independent voters in 2000 gave McCain a victory in Michigan when you have about 52 percent of the voters in the Republican primary be independents or Democrats.

Yesterday, what we saw was only about 32 percent of the independents and Democrats turned out and they went for McCain, but it just wasn't as big as the purely Republican vote. And that purely Republican vote heavily based on the economy and on last minutes ads. Mitt Romney put a lot of money into last minute ads and appearances in Michigan, and that helped him sway last-minute voters, people who made the decision last day or so, and that was the basis of his victory.

MONTAGNE: And let's talk about John McCain. On Monday, he came out on top of all the big national polls that didn't seem to help him in Michigan.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's interesting. The push from the national polls, as you pointed out, and the push that came from his victory in New Hampshire seemed to give him momentum going in. But McCain had a very different stand on the Michigan economy than did Mitt Romney. McCain's position - was I'm going to tell you the truth - a lot of these auto industry jobs are not coming back. McCain, on the other hand, promised that he would help to revitalize the Michigan economy and the auto industry. And apparently, that kind of optimism played well for the guy who claims he was the home state kid, you know, the son of George Romney, the former Michigan governor. He grew up there. Although, of course, he left and gone to Massachusetts long ago.

MONTAGNE: And Romney, of course, promising this could have - innocence bring him back.

WILLIAMS: That's right.

MONTAGNE: Mike Huckabee came in third last night. He said he's in it for the long haul.

WILLIAMS: I think he is. And again, going down to South Carolina this weekend, what you have is an opportunity for him to reclaim those social conservatives, specifically evangelicals. They did not turn out in large numbers for him in Michigan, especially in the Upper Peninsula. That had been his hope.

Now, we go down to South Carolina - much more of those social conservatives to play with and he's in the lead, looking, you know - I would say that's really between Huckabee and McCain in South Carolina.

MONTAGNE: Really interesting race. Three Republican candidates now, they've (unintelligible) up the really states. Next, Nevada, South Carolina, then Florida and a whole bunch of states on Super Tuesday, including obviously big ones California and New York. How is the campaign changing?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I think one of the key changes is the economy has become such a central issue, Renee. They're previously - there was a lot of focus on the immigration issue, on the war in Iraq. Now, I think what's coming clear is, as we've seen in Michigan and we'll see now, I think, in subsequent races, the economy is becoming more dominant. It's now the number one issues among voters - Republican and Democrat - in this campaign. And that's something that we haven't seen before, and so we're going to see how the popular (unintelligible), for example, how Mike Huckabee plays, how the optimism of Mitt Romney, especially his ties to a lot of his Wall Street supporters plays versus the kind of, you know, straight talk that John McCain claims to have about economic issues and what can be done out of - help ease some of the middle-class anxiety.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

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