Mitt Romney Wins Michigan Primary

After devastating defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mitt Romney climbed back into the presidential race, winning the Michigan primary and reasserting himself into the race to become the Republican nominee.

Romney beat out Arizona Sen. John McCain, who came in a close second, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who came in third in the state, ABC News projects.

"Tonight marks the beginning of a comeback, a comeback for America," Romney told supporters at a rally in Southfield.

"Only a week ago, a win looked impossible," he said. "Tonight is a victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism."

"Washington is broken, and we're going to do something about it," Romney said as supporters yelled "Mitt!"

"Let's take this campaign to South Carolina and Nevada," Romney said to cheers, "and all the way to the White House."

McCain called Romney to congratulate him Tuesday night soon after the networks projected him the winner.

"My friends we fell a little short tonight," McCain said in a speech to supporters Tuesday night, "but we went to Michigan and did what we always do: We told the truth"

Conceding Michigan, Huckabee thanked his supporters, noting he was outspent in the state. Congratulating Romney, Huckabee said, "I won Iowa, John McCain won New Hampshire, Mitt Romney won Michigan, but we're gonna win South Carolina."

'Michigan in My DNA'

Campaign staff close to Romney point to a "strong close" in Michigan, arguing the former Massachusetts governor was able to convince Michigan voters that he was one of them, partly through brute force.

In speech after speech in the state, Romney repeated that he was born and raised in Michigan, and that his father was a popular auto executive and three-term Michigan governor in the 1960s.

"I've got Michigan in my DNA. I've got it in my heart, and I've got cars in my bloodstream," he has said.

That strategy paid off. Forty-two percent described his family ties to Michigan as at least somewhat important in their vote; he won them by a huge margin, with 58 percent to McCain's 17 percent, according to exit poll results.

It's the Economy

Campaign aides said he was able to sell that message even to younger voters, who never knew his father.

They also point to his comfort level when discussing the economy.

Aides even suggest he might have benefited from the recent spate of unsettling economic news. The mega-successful corporate tycoon seems at ease talking about economic and business matters.

"I will not rest until the Michigan economy has come back," was a regular Romney refrain on the campaign trail.

"I'll work just as hard as anyone who's ever worked for this great state and make sure that the future of Michigan is bright," Romney said Tuesday at a get-out-the-vote rally in Grand Rapids.

Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, 7.4 percent in November. Romney has promised Michigan voters he will help devise a national policy to help automakers if he's elected president.

And preliminary exit poll results suggest the top issue by far on the minds of Michigan voters is the economy. About 55 percent of GOP primary voters said it was the single most important issue in their vote, far above the war in Iraq, cited by only two out of 10.

Among the 55 percent of voters who called the economy the top issue in their vote, Romney beat McCain by 42-29 percent.

It also didn't hurt that, for the third straight contest, Romney spent more money on advertising that all his opponents combined. Romney spent $2 million, and his closest opponent in the state, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, spent just under $750,000, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

What's Next

On what to expect next from the Romney campaign, one senior aide told ABC News, "Get your sunscreen!" Not for South Carolina, but for the upcoming primaries in Nevada and Florida.

Both South Carolina and Nevada hold contests on Jan. 19. South Carolina has what is traditionally a very important, high-profile primary, and Nevada has an extremely under-the-radar caucus.

The Romney campaign is hedging its bets on South Carolina. Instead of an all-out push in the Palmetto State, Romney is planning a swing through Nevada for at least a part of two days leading up to Jan. 19.

Romney will head to Nevada Thursday, and stay there Thursday night, leaving McCain to fight with Huckabee and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson in South Carolina.

Romney has poured more resources into Nevada than any other candidate, and would seem a sure bet to win without a visit.

But the Romney campaign is clearly trying to send a not-so-subliminal message that it doesn't care quite as much about South Carolina. If it loses there -- and Romney's behind in most polls -- the national media will not say he blew it in another state. One Romney adviser said, "South Carolina is the first state that you [the media] are not calling a 'must win' for us."

Where to Fight

South Carolina is a tough state for Romney, with its large evangelical vote.

And even though he is backing off, he is not abandoning the state completely. The campaign started airing new television ads there today, and he will travel there for a bus tour Wednesday.

The Romney camp believes it needs to maintain a presence there in order to stay on radar of the national media, something former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has had a tough time doing while sitting out some of the first contests.

But the trip to Nevada is a significant signal that this campaign is now about picking and choosing where to fight hard, and where to hardly fight.

The Romney staff believes it is the state of Florida that is shaping up to be the decisive contest. Recent polls show a close, four-candidate race between Giuliani, McCain, Huckabee and Romney.

Some Romney advisers believe that Giuliani, who once enjoyed a huge lead on Florida, will continue to slip there, and that Romney can pick up support in the key Republican areas around Orlando and Tampa.

"The race will be decided in the I-4 corridor, just like every Republican primary is," said one strategist.

Florida will also, in part, be decided by money. It is an extremely expensive state to campaign in, costing between $2 million and $3 million a week for significant television ad buys.

While the other campaigns struggle to scrape together the cash to compete, Romney can just pull out his checkbook.

By September 30, he had already dumped $17 million into the campaign, and by now has most likely dwarfed that sum. We will not know for sure just how much he has given until January 31.

When asked by ABC's Cynthia McFadden if there was a magic number that he would not go above, Romney gave a prickly response: "There's nothing magic about it, but Anne and I have talked about how much we would invest in the campaign."

McCain Straight Talk

Unlike Romney, McCain refused to promise federal help for automakers, arguing that any candidate who says traditional auto manufacturing jobs "are coming back is either naive or is not talking straight with the people of Michigan and America."

McCain had hoped his brand of straight talk would mobilize the independents who helped him defeat George W. Bush in Michigan's 2000 Republican primary.

Independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman Tuesday called on Michigan's independents and Democrats to vote for McCain.

"I urge them to come out today and stand for a man who is a great American patriot," Lieberman said at a joint town hall meeting with McCain.

However, exit poll results in the state indicate much less of a turnout among independents than in the 2000 primary. About a quarter of voters are identifying themselves as independents, versus 35 percent in 2000.

Christian Conservatives

Meanwhile Huckabee, who successfully wooed Christian evangelicals in Iowa, hoped to mobilize the religious voters in the western part of Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

However Romney narrowly beat Huckabee among Christian evangelicals in Michigan, 34 percent to 29 percent, with 23 percent voting for McCain.

Thompson, never expected to be a factor in Michigan, spent his day campaigning in South Carolina.

Thompson was asked by a reporter what a win in today's Michigan primary might do for Romney's chances in the Palmetto State.

"It will undoubtedly recharge him a little bit, but you know, he seems to have a lot of recharging to do, so I don't know if it will make up enough ground for him or not," Thompson said.

While Republicans had 30 delegates up for grabs tonight, the Democratic candidates have none after a scheduling dispute led the Democratic National Committee to strip the state of its delegates.

On the Democratic side, ABC News projected Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., the winner in the Michigan primary, followed by "uncommitted."

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former Sen. John Edwards withdrew from the state's race in an early move to Iowa, leaving Clinton the party's only major party candidate on the ballot.

The Obama campaign sent around a memo Tuesday evening urging reporters and pundits to ignore tonight's Democratic results in Michigan because Clinton is the only major candidate to appear on the ballot.

"The Obama Campaign is not participating in the Primary and has not instructed supporters in Michigan whether or how to vote," the memo reads. "Therefore the results of the primary tonight have no bearing on the Democratic nomination contest."

The Clinton campaign hit back Tuesday night, sending out a memo of its own before the results were in.

"With polls in recent days showing that effort and their candidate running far behind in both states, the Obama campaign has shifted tactics to say that those who cast a vote in either state don't matter," the Clinton campaign memo reads.

"The Obama campaign had no problems when its supporters and allies in Michigan ran radio ads and other campaign activities urging people to vote for 'uncommitted' as a way to register their support for Senator Obama -- and to give him a chance to compete for those delegates at the national convention."

Both the Republican and Democratic races now move on to skirmishes in Nevada and South Carolina, and set their sights on the Feb 5 Super Tuesday battles that may clear the field.

ABC News' Ursula Fahy, Matt Stuart, Rick Klein, Bret Hovell, Christine Byun, Kevin Chupka and Gary Langer contributed to this report. Jennifer Parker reported from Washington.