THE NOTE: Mitten for Mitt?

Michigan voters on Tuesday take their turn sorting through the Republican presidential field, with a battered state economy providing the backdrop for a primary that could thin the ranks of the GOP contenders.

With the first three contests of the Republican race having produced three different winners, Michigan is almost certain to hand a second victory to one of them. Either a native son -- Mitt Romney -- or a defending champion -- John McCain -- will sputter into South Carolina's Saturday primary in a jalopy of disappointment.

On this snowy primary day, polls close at 9 pm ET -- just as the Democratic candidates debate in Las Vegas, testing a tenuous truce. (The split-screen moment for political junkies will quite possibly star Dennis Kucinich as the little candidate who couldn't be kept away.)

Fred Thompson may already be the Packard of the race -- grandpa's favorite, but not much to brag about under the hood. Rudy Giuliani could very well be the Hummer -- looking tough and guzzling cash, but not getting great mileage.

But with inspiration from the campaign event formerly known as the Detroit Auto Show -- it's like the Iowa State Fair, only shinier and better for you -- Michigan will answer:

Will Mitt Romney be more Oldsmobile or Mustang? (He's got a great name, sure, but he could just as easily be discontinued as he could come in for a redesign.)


Will John McCain be more Buick or Corvette? (He's an oldie but a goodie, though he'd rather have some pick-up in the engine.)

Will Mike Huckabee be more Taurus or F-150? (Not as pressing a question, since we trust he'll still have a Jesus fish on the bumper and Chuck Norris in the passenger seat when he cruises into South Carolina.)

(And the question that could subsume the previous three: Will Michigan Democrats and independents ram a Mac truck into the Republican race?)

Polls indicate that the race is between Romney, R-Mass., and McCain, R-Ariz., with Huckabee, R-Ark., perhaps also in the mix (at least for second place), owing to a sizeable evangelical base in the state. It's a battle between "a native son, a returning champion and a Southern wild card," David Jackson writes in USA Today.

Their paths crossed at the Detroit Auto Show on the final full day of campaigning in Michigan, with each offering his own brand of fixes. It was Mitt Romney -- Washington Outsider, Turnaround Artist, and Michigan Native -- delivering a jab or two at McCain in a speech Monday at the Detroit Economic Club.

"A lot of Washington politicians are aware of the pain in Michigan, but they haven't done anything about it," Romney said. Per the Detroit Free Press' Todd Spangler:

"When he stood in front of Michigan crowds, he spoke as if he had known them all his life."

For McCain, it was about Straight Talk to the end: "Anybody who says those old jobs are coming back is either naive or not being straight with the people of Michigan and America," McCain said, the Detroit News' Gordon Trowbridge reports.

"The candidates' divergent approaches highlight the degree to which Romney and McCain are counting on different segments of an undecided electorate to deliver them a win," write Juliet Eilperin and Michael Shear of The Washington Post.

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