Romney, Clinton lead Michigan poll

Voters planning to participate in Tuesday's Michigan presidential primary favor Mitt Romney and Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to a poll released Saturday night.

Republican voters whose greatest concern is the economy could give Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and Bloomfield Hills, Mich. native, his first major state victory.

In the Detroit Free Press-Local 4 Michigan Poll, Romney leads Sen. John McCain 27%-22% with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in third place at 16%.

Romney, whose father George was Michigan's governor in the 1960s, needs a win here after second-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

"I think Republicans will pick a Republican nominee and that's me," Romney said Saturday in an interview with the Free Press. Romney also said while many Michiganders don't remember his father, "my dad's reputation has lasted longer than I can easily understand."

Romney's lead could evaporate, depending on how shaky, undecided and uncommitted voters move over the next two days, the poll indicated. Some 38% who had a favorite said they might change their mind by Tuesday. Another 22% hadn't picked a candidate.

Romney's core of support is in metro Detroit, where he has a 2-1 advantage.

Of the 40% who named the economy as their top concern, Romney had a 42%-25% advantage over McCain. But McCain wins by about the same margin over Romney among the 24% of Republican voters whose top issue is the Iraq war.

On the Democratic ballot, only New York senator Clinton's name appears among three major contenders. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, took their names off because Michigan violated national party rules by moving its primary before Feb. 5.

It's not known how many Democrats unhappy with their choice will choose the Republican ballot. Obama and Edwards supporters are urging a vote for "uncommitted."

Clinton easily beats "uncommitted," 56% to 30%.

If the other major contenders were on the ballot, Clinton would still win with 46% of the vote. Obama would receive 23% and Edwards would get 13%, the poll indicated.

The poll also shows 42% of the current uncommitted vote going to Obama.

The poll also shows that relatively few Democratic voters will vote in the Republican primary, a factor that may be difficult to gauge. Independents and Democrats who cross over to the GOP could tip the election to McCain if they show up in substantial numbers.

Ann Selzer, who conducted the poll, said the Michigan primary, with Democrats not campaigning in the state and only one of three major candidates on the ballot, is "even quirkier than Iowa." Her poll two days before the Iowa caucus was the only one to successfully project Obama's big victory over Clinton.

Independent voters in the Michigan Poll favored McCain over Romney by 5 percentage points. But Romney holds an 11-point edge among self-identified Republicans.

The telephone survey of 600 people who said they will definitely vote has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It was conducted Wednesday through Friday.

McCain, the Arizona senator who won last week's New Hampshire primary, defeated George W. Bush in Michigan's 2000 presidential primary on the strength of independent voters and some Democrats.

GOP voters believe McCain is more electable, unifying and able to bring about change, the poll showed. But respondents like Romney more for his leadership style, understanding of voters and ability to convey hope for the future.

Huckabee is a favorite among GOP voters motivated by faith. Thirty-eight percent said it matters if the next president is a devout Christian, the highest number among attributes.

Among that 38%, Huckabee leads Romney by a small margin. Voters who identify themselves as evangelical comprise 29% of the Republican primary vote and they favor Huckabee almost 2-1 over Romney.

For the Democrats, the question remains whether Clinton can claim a decisive victory if her margin in the poll holds up. The other question is whether the Democratic primary demonstrates much of anything, since none of the candidates, including Clinton, have campaigned here.

Obama and Edwards, along with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, who both have dropped out of the race, removed their names from Michigan's ballot in October after Michigan moved its primary to Jan. 15.

Clinton, along with Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, former congressman Mike Gravel of Alaska and Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd kept their names on the ballot, but only Kucinich is campaigning in Michigan. Dodd dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses.

University of New Hampshire associate political science professor Dante Scala said any showing of less than 40% would be viewed as an embarrassment for Clinton.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., echoed that assessment.

"I'd like her to do as well or better than she did in New Hampshire," where Clinton received 39% of the vote, Stabenow said Saturday at a Clinton rally.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Saturday that any suggestions that Clinton has to get 60% or risk looking like a loser are ridiculous.

"She doesn't have that much in any other state," Granholm said. "And she's not uncommitted to Michigan as apparently the other candidates are."

When asked to choose one or two issues that helped decide how to vote, the economy was the most pressing issue (48%) for Democratic voters naming a candidate. The war in Iraq received 39% and health care got 35%.

Contributing: Kathleen Gray and Tina Lam, Detroit Free Press. The Detroit Free Press and USA TODAY are owned by Gannett.