GOP Front-Runners Work All Angles in Michigan Three leading Republicans are competing hard for delegates in the large industrial state. Mitt Romney hopes to trade on the legacy of his late father, a former Michigan governor. John McCain hopes to capitalize on a bounce in the polls after his New Hampshire win, while Mike Huckabee seeks support from evangelicals.
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GOP Front-Runners Work All Angles in Michigan

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GOP Front-Runners Work All Angles in Michigan

GOP Front-Runners Work All Angles in Michigan

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

It's becoming the norm this election season: the day before a primary, and the race is neck and neck. Today, we're talking about Michigan, where Republicans Mitt Romney and John McCain are just about even in the polls. Tomorrow's vote in Michigan is seen as a must-win for Romney, who's in need of a victory as the campaign goes increasingly national.

SIEGEL: Coming up, we'll hear about the challenges of going national from two political strategists who are sitting out this primary season. First, to Michigan and the Republican race.

BLOCK: NPR's Don Gonyea is in Detroit.

And, Don, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Mike Huckabee all in Michigan today. Give us a sense of their pitches to voters there.

DON GONYEA: Mitt Romney is focusing on his business experience. He also has deep family ties in Michigan. His dad was an auto exec and a former governor. So he's playing on that. John McCain is playing off a bounce he seems to be getting from New Hampshire. Also, he has a history here. He beat George W. Bush in the Michigan primary in 2000. Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, is again pursuing Christian conservatives.

BLOCK: The economy is turning out to be a major issue nationally in the campaign. It's always a big issue in Michigan - that state has the highest unemployment rate in the country. What do the candidates have to say about that?

GONYEA: It's bigger than ever here. And Mitt Romney is talking about how the state needs a president who understands. He says that the domestic car industry has a chance to come back, but that it needs help in terms of research and investment and fewer government regulations.

Here's Romney at the Economic Club of Detroit today.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Massachusetts Governor; Republican Presidential Candidate): Of course I hear people from time to time say, well, that's Michigan's problem. Or they say something like, well, it's the car companies. They just brought it on themselves. But that's where they're wrong. What Michigan is feeling will be felt by the entire nation unless we win the economic battle here.

GONYEA: And Romney insists that the hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs the state has lost can come back. That is a message that Mike Huckabee promotes as well, though, perhaps a bit less adamantly. Give a listen.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Arkansas Governor; Republican Presidential Candidate): If we're talking about the auto industry, cars have to be built somewhere. I don't know why they couldn't be built in Michigan. The infrastructure is here, you've got trained workforce. So I don't necessarily agree that Michigan is no longer capable of producing automobiles.

GONYEA: Then there's John McCain. For days, he has been delivering some of that straight talk to Michigan voters, saying, hey, those jobs are not going to come back, but we can supply training and education to help displaced workers. He's been criticized for that as being too pessimistic. So he was a bit more upbeat today in Kalamazoo.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): We have the innovation, the talent, the knowledge and the ability in Detroit, Michigan and in this state to regain Michigan's position as the best in the world. We will create new jobs. We will have the ability.

BLOCK: John McCain there in Michigan today. We've been talking about the Republicans. We haven't mentioned the Democrats in Michigan, Don, and that's because most of the candidates aren't competing there.

GONYEA: It is a mess. The only major candidate on the ballot on the Democratic side is Hillary Clinton. John Edwards is not on the ballot. Barack Obama is not on the ballot because there was a dispute between the state party and the national Democratic Party over the attempt to move the Michigan primary up. The state was stripped of its delegates. People will have a chance to vote uncommitted as a way of voting against Hillary Clinton if they would like. But they can't even write in the names Barack Obama or John Edwards.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Don Gonyea in Detroit. Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: A pleasure.

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