Michigan GOP Makes Mitt Romney's Night

Conservatives, mainline Republicans and family history made it Mitt Romney's day in Michigan, underscoring the fractured nature of the 2008 Republican presidential race as he became the third GOP winner in the first three high-profile contests.

In addition to restoring the former Massachusetts governor's fortunes, the outcome underscored Arizona Sen. John McCain's challenges of translating support centered on independents and moderates in a party dominated by conservatives and mainline Republicans. It again showed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to have a weaker lock on evangelicals than he enjoyed in Iowa. And it made former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani look less formidable than ever.

Among other factors, Romney benefited from his roots in the state where he was born and his father, a former American Motors chairman, was governor from 1963 to 1969. 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.

The Independent Voters

In 2000, McCain won the state on a surge of independents and Democrats voting in the GOP contest (that's allowed in Michigan); that year only 48 percent of Republican primary voters were Republicans. This yea,r it didn't happen: Sixty-eight percent of voters were Republican regulars, and they supported Romney by 41-27 percent over McCain, with 17 percent for Huckabee.

McCain won independents by 6 points, but they accounted for just 25 percent of voters, vs. 35 percent in 2000. He also prevailed by 8 points among Democratic crossover voters. But there were fewer of them, too; suggestions that they'd vote in the Republican race given the lack of a real Democratic contest were not borne out. Just 7 percent of GOP voters were Democrats, down from 17 percent in 2000.

Ideology told a similar story: Conservatives upped their share of the turnout to 56 percent, 11 points higher than in 2000, and they, too, went for Romney, 41-23 percent, with 20 percent for Huckabee. McCain won moderates, 40-34 percent; again there were too few.

Economy Casts Heavy Shadow on Michigan

Romney found support on two issues he'd stressed: The economy, which was far and away the most-cited concern (Michigan has the nation's highest unemployment rate); and immigration. Among the 55 percent of voters who called the economy the top issue in their vote, Romney beat McCain by 42-29 percent.

Romney pledged in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club Monday to revive the state's beleaguered auto industry. Perhaps it helped; among voters who made up their minds on Election Day, 16 percent of the total, Romney beat McCain by 41-25 percent. (Romney also won, albeit by less of a margin, among those who decided anytime from the previous three days to a month ago. Earlier deciders were for McCain.)

Among those citing immigration as the top issue (far fewer in number), it was Romney, 39-18 percent. Moreover, among the nearly half of Republican voters who said illegal immigrants should be deported, Romney had 41 percent support, McCain 24 percent.

Michigan Evangelicals Divide

Thirty-nine percent of Republican voters were evangelical Christians, far more than in New Hampshire (23 percent), albeit fewer than the 60 percent evangelical turnout in Iowa, where Huckabee rode their support to victory.

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