Romney Wins Michigan Primary

By: Wall Street Journal

Native Son’s Victory Does Little to Sort Out GOP; South Carolina Looms

DETROIT — Native son Mitt Romney won Michigan’s Republican presidential primary, keeping his candidacy alive but leaving his party’s nomination race more chaotic.

Republicans still have no apparent front-runner, and no contender has a clear path to the nomination. With Mr. Romney’s victory yesterday, the year’s first three important state contests each have a different Republican winner, meaning none of the men gains much momentum. Arizona Sen. John McCain won last week’s New Hampshire primary, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee upset Mr. Romney in Iowa’s caucuses Jan. 3.

Had Sen. McCain capitalized on his New Hampshire triumph with another win in Michigan, he would have left here as the undisputed party front-runner, Republicans say.

Mr. Romney’s victory came in the first state where economic distress was a dominant concern, and he re-tooled his campaign message accordingly. Social issues such as abortion took a back seat as he stressed his record as a problem-solving businessman and a former Massachusetts governor who expanded access to health insurance.

Exit polls showed that half of the voters yesterday ranked the economy over the Iraq war, immigration and terrorism as the most important issue facing the country. By comparison, about a quarter of Republicans in Iowa and less than a third in New Hampshire named the economy as the top issue.

Already today, Messrs. Romney, McCain and Huckabee are campaigning in South Carolina for its primary Saturday. Sen. McCain and Mr. Huckabee are the favorites; Sen. McCain appeals to the state’s military-minded voters while Mr. Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister, is popular with evangelical conservatives.

While only the top three candidates campaigned in Michigan, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson has been stumping full-time in South Carolina, in hopes of jump-starting his stalled candidacy. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been doing the same in Florida, which votes Jan. 29. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, while favored nowhere, in every state has an energized if small following of fellow antiwar and anti-Federal Reserve libertarians.

The Democratic candidates didn’t compete in Michigan, after their party stripped the state party of its nominating-convention delegates as a penalty for scheduling a primary before Feb. 5. Both parties have rules intended to avoid too many early contests. The Republican Party set a lesser sanction, halving Michigan’s convention delegates and allowing the primary campaign to go on.

Mr. Romney was born and raised in Michigan, and his father was governor. A loss here would likely have been fatal to his ambitions, coming on top of second-place finishes in New Hampshire and Iowa — both of which he had counted on winning.

Exit polls suggested he prevailed in Michigan because significantly fewer independent and Democratic voters turned out compared with 2000. That year, so many voted for Sen. McCain that he defeated George W. Bush, though Mr. Bush got most Republicans’ votes. Michigan’s party primaries are open to all voters. Yesterday’s exit polls showed that Republicans accounted for two-thirds of the primary vote; in 2000 they were less than half.

Again, Sen. McCain banked on attracting a range of voters. “We’re depending on Republicans, Democrats, Independents, libertarian, vegetarian, Trotskyites,” Sen. McCain said, as he made final campaign stops accompanied by Connecticut’s Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who calls himself an Independent Democrat. “Nobody won an election in this century with just their party members.”

As for Mr. Romney, it isn’t clear that he can take any momentum from Michigan since he has no advantage to exploit in coming contests. Mr. Romney has struggled in South Carolina, Florida and other states where Christian conservatives are suspicious both of his Mormon faith and his late-career conversion to opposing abortion and gay rights. He also faces tough fights in the 21 states that hold Republican contests on Feb. 5, “Super Tuesday.” The expense of travel and television advertising will pose huge problems. All the Republicans are scrambling for money, and Mr. Romney will undoubtedly have to dig deeper into his personal wealth.

The battle for Michigan was mainly a showdown between Mr. Romney and Sen. McCain, whose rivalry has grown increasingly bitter. Third-place Mr. Huckabee, with little money or organization, made a “good faith effort,” said campaign manager Ed Rollins, appealing mainly to the pockets of Christian conservatives in western Michigan.

Given the auto-manufacturing state’s depressed economy, the Republican candidates spoke to voters’ economic angst more than they have in the past year. Both Mr. Romney and Sen. McCain altered their small-government pitches to promise that, if elected, Washington would do more to help the state.

Mr. Romney repeatedly said that Michigan’s woes are “personal for me,” given his family’s history here. He vowed to mount a rescue effort within his first 100 days in office with the auto industry’s management and labor; to seek federal investment for technological research rivaling the 1960s space race, and to loosen federal regulation. He also belittled Sen. McCain’s self-professed “straight talk” that many Michigan jobs aren’t coming back, and criticized his rival’s support for tougher fuel-economy standards and limits on carbon emissions.

That stance was a winning one for many voters. Keith Lombardi, 45, came to a Romney event in Taylor Sunday undecided between him and Mr. Huckabee; he left favoring Mr. Romney because of “what he can do for Michigan.”

Mr. Lombardi also provided evidence for Republican strategists who argue that Mr. Giuliani may have miscalculated by skipping the early-state contests. “Originally I was a Rudy supporter,” Mr. Lombardi said, “but he kind of blew us off — like we didn’t mean that much to him.”

–Elizabeth Holmes and Alex Frangos contributed to this article.

Write to Jackie Calmes at

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