4 days until the Nevada caucuses
POLLS CLOSE: 9:00 PM ET
It's an action packed night of politics with the Republican primary race expected to go down to the wire in Michigan and the Democratic presidential contenders (including for now Dennis Kucinich) debating in Nevada.
(There probably won't be a better night to use that picture-in-picture on your new plasma TV and have multiple Internet windows open on your laptop.)
ABC News' Rick Klein will be live blogging all of the action in Michigan and Nevada (and maybe he will even provide updates on the Michigan State/Ohio State college hoops game for the sports fans out there who cannot tear themselves away from political coverage tonight)
The first two waves of exit polling data are in and ABC News' Gary Langer reports that the preliminary exit poll results in the Michigan Republican primary indicate much less of a turnout among independents there than in the 2000 primary – about a quarter of voters are identifying themselves as independents, compared with 35 percent half in 2000, an extraordinary year for independent turnout in the primary.
So despite many pundits pontificating – the idea that Democrats might cross over and vote in the Republican primary is not panning out.
From ABC News' Langer:
Fewer than one in 10 GOP voters are identifying themselves as Democrats, compared with 17 percent in 2000. Remarkably, in 2000, 52 percent of all voters in the Michigan Republican primary were not Republicans - 35 percent independents and 17 percent Democrats. Forty-eight percent were Republicans. This year, in preliminary exit poll results, two-thirds are Republicans.
(Keep in mind – the Democratic contest in Michigan is meaningless. Barack Obama and John Edwards are not even on the ballot and have withdrawn their names from the Michigan ballot to honor DNC rules forbidding non-approved states from holding contests before Feb 5.)
Preliminary xit polls show that more than half of voters in the GOP race identify themselves as conservatives, more than it was in 2000 but about what it'd been in earlier, 1996 and 1992 primaries.
ABC News' Langer reports that the top issue by far on voters' minds is the economy. "More than half in the Republican race say it was the single most important issue in their vote, far above the war in Iraq, cited by two in 10. About two-thirds of Republican primary voters, moreover say the national economy's in bad shape. (Voters in the Democratic primary also cite the economy as their top issue, by an equally wide margin.)"
Voters sure are taking their time to make up their minds - Three in 10 in the Republican race they finally decided whom to support in the last four days (including today), well up from 18 percent in 2000. (It was about the same in Iowa; late deciding was higher still in the New Hampshire GOP contest, 39 percent in the four days including Election Day.) Smart folks in Michigan say that when the vote is coming in tonight here are few things to look for:
-- Oakland County. Romney has solid support in the suburbs of Michigan (his donor base was centered there) and if he is pulling in big margins there it could carry him to a state-wide victory
-- Muskegon, Holland, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo – areas McCain can do well in and will be interesting to watch as the results come in tonight.