GOP vote expected to be tight in Mich.
Associated Press Writers
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) ” John McCain, campaigning in a funeral home, hoped for a large turnout by the living Tuesday as Michigan voters judged the Republican presidential pack in a snowy primary. Favorite-son Mitt Romney voiced edgy confidence in his chances.
Outside a Baptist church in Warren, Mike Huckabee was happy to see the freezing temperatures and snowfall, reasoning that his evangelical base would come out to vote when others less committed might not. “That can only be good for us because I think most of our voters are very focused. We hope so, anyway.”
Opinion polls indicated a tight race between McCain, who won the Michigan primary in 2000, and Romney, who was born and raised in Michigan, where his dad was governor.
The Democratic side of the primary has generated little interest because Hillary Rodham Clinton is the only top tier candidate on the ballot and no delegates are at stake.
McCain, before a rally at Northwestern Michigan College, toured a historic house that’s been converted to a funeral home, an odd choice for a man who believes in portents. But he had on a lucky-charm sweater ” a green one he wore on the day he won the New Hampshire primary.
“We’re hoping to get a big turnout from everybody,” he said. “I think it’s going to be very close.”
The Arizona senator said his primary target is Republican votes, but “having independent and Democratic votes shows potential for the general election.” Michigan voters can vote in either primary, regardless of their party registration.
About 20 percent of eligible voters were expected to turn out. Freezing temperatures prevailed and snow fell across much of the state Tuesday morning, with half a foot accumulating in some places by midmorning.
The economy has dominated the GOP race in recent days, with front-runners Romney and McCain both pledging to lead a revival for a state and an auto industry ravaged by recession.
Of the three, Romney was most in need of a victory as he looked to restore at least some of the luster lost with defeats in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Several associates have suggested the former Massachusetts governor might quit the race with a bad showing.
Romney has played up his Michigan roots and his family’s association with the auto industry. His late father, George Romney, led American Motors and served three terms as governor during the 1960s.
McCain won the state’s primary eight years ago on the strength of independent voters, and hoped for a repeat Tuesday. He has regained the lead in the national polls that he enjoyed months ago ” before his campaign nearly came apart over the summer.
In Grand Rapids, Romney told about 100 supporters gathered in the warehouse of an office furniture company: “I think Michigan is going to vote for a Romney again.”
“This is the day that’s going to change, I believe, the politics of our nation as we get ready to select our nominee,” he said.
As he has for the past week, Romney sought to differentiate himself from McCain and Huckabee by highlighting the private-sector experience Huckabee lacks and accusing McCain of achieving few results despite nearly three decades in Washington.
“People have been talking about things that Washington has been promising for years but not delivered,” Romney told the crowd. “And so, I will go to Washington to stop the bickering, the sniping, the partisanship, the score-settling. I will go to Washington to actually get the job done for the people of America.”
Huckabee, a former Baptist minister and Arkansas governor, has relied on pastors to motivate their flocks to support him. Several pastors greeted him at the church Tuesday morning, murmuring, “God bless you,” as Huckabee shook their hands.
Born-again or evangelical Christians were the key to his victory in the Iowa. He hoped they would give him a strong third-place finish in Michigan and then push him to victory four days later in South Carolina.
Rudy Giuliani on Tuesday continued his unorthodox strategy of skipping early states in favor of targeting Florida, which has its primary Jan. 29. He hopes a victory there will propel him toward Feb. 5, when more than 20 states hold their contests.
With polls showing him slipping further from the lead he once had nationwide and in Florida, Giuliani began his day in Orlando talking about counterterrorism and law enforcement at a conference of state troopers who have already endorsed him. He told about 75 troopers that they are the nation’s “first preventers” who are charged with the responsibility of noticing suspicious activity by would-be terrorists.
Among the Democrats, Barack Obama and John Edwards pulled their names from ballot after Michigan broke national party rules by moving up its primary date to give the state more say in the selection of a candidate. The national party stripped Michigan of its delegates as a penalty.
Obama and Edwards supporters urged voters to vote for uncommitted, just in case delegates are seated later, as state party leaders expect. Write-in votes won’t be counted.
Democratic voter Judy Polcyn selected Clinton shortly after the polls opened, but said she would have considered Edwards.
“I would like to have seen more candidates on the ballot. I don’t think ‘uncommitted’ said much,” said Polcyn, a 57-year-old hospital scheduling coordinator who voted at a Dearborn elementary school.
The early primary date is new for Michigan, which typically doesn’t hold its presidential primaries until February. On the Republican side, the move cost Michigan half its GOP national convention delegates.
Next up for the Democrats were precinct caucuses Saturday in Nevada, where a debate was scheduled for Tuesday night in Las Vegas.
Liz Sidoti reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Libby Quaid in Warren, Mich.; David Eggert in Traverse City, Mich., Tim Martin in Lansing, Mich., and Sara Kugler in Orlando, Fla., contributed to this report.
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