John McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are looking for votes here in the midst of what the state Republican Party chairman calls a "single-state recession."
"There's a concentration on the economy and jobs here," Chairman Saul Anuzis said. "We're feeling the pain probably more than most."
As the Michigan primary approaches Tuesday, McCain, Romney and Huckabee are taking different approaches to a state with the nation's highest unemployment. McCain, coming off last week's win in New Hampshire, told state voters that many of those lost jobs aren't coming back because of the global economy. The Arizona senator emphasized retraining displaced workers.
McCain said retraining programs in Michigan can help the nation address global warming and dependence on foreign oil, through research on such items as hydrogen- or battery-run cars.
"Michigan can lead the nation and the world again," he said after a town hall meeting in Howell. "We've got the technology here. We've got the academic base. We've got the ability to bring green technologies to the world."
McCain looks to repeat his win in the Michigan primary in 2000, using largely the same strategy — attracting Democrats who can cross over and vote in the GOP race.
Romney, who finished second in New Hampshire and Iowa, called McCain's assessment of permanent job loss too "pessimistic."
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, appeared over the weekend at a General Motors plant where 200 people have been laid off. He pledged to help the auto industry through increases in research into more fuel-efficient vehicles. He questioned government-imposed restrictions on fuel standards and carbon emissions.
"The burdens on American manufacturing are largely imposed by government, and new leadership in Washington can lift those burdens and lift the industry," Romney says in prepared remarks for a speech to be made Monday in Detroit.
Tuesday's election is important for Romney, given his family's name recognition in the state. His father, George, served as Michigan's governor for six years. The multimillionaire business executive told CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday that he will stay in the race no matter what happens Tuesday.
Huckabee, winner of the Iowa caucuses, echoed the approach he took in earlier contests, saying Republicans should pay more attention to working-class people. While continuing to appeal to religious conservatives, the Baptist minister also spoke about something unusual for a Republican: a union endorsement. The support of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades "is yet another encouraging sign that my pro-growth message of opportunity and prosperity for all Americans is resonating," Huckabee said Saturday.
Also appearing Sunday on Face the Nation, Huckabee promoted his idea of a national retail sales tax to replace the income tax. The former Arkansas governor made a late-scheduled return to Michigan on Sunday.
Two weekend polls showed Romney and McCain battling for first and Huckabee in third.
A Detroit Free Press-Local 4 Michigan Poll gave Romney a 27%-22% lead over McCain. Huckabee was at third with 16%. The poll said 40% of Republicans view the economy as the top issue, followed by the Iraq war with 24%. A closer race was reflected in a poll by The Detroit News/WXYZ Action News. It gave McCain a 27%-26% edge over Romney, and Huckabee was at 19%.
The Michigan primary comes days before the one in South Carolina on Saturday. McCain is not scheduled to be in Michigan on primary night. He'll decamp to Charleston, S.C., in the afternoon.
Former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, another candidate, is concentrating South Carolina.
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is banking on the Florida primary Jan. 29. On Fox News Sunday, Giuliani downplayed his poll numbers and the fact that some campaign staff members are forgoing paychecks for a month. "It's a wide-open race," Giuliani said, and "we've got a good long campaign here in Florida. … We've got a lot of time until Jan. 29."
In Michigan, a big question in the Republican primary may be the size of the Democratic turnout. Anuzis said 17% of the vote in the Republican primary in 2000 consisted of crossover Democrats.
The national Democratic Party stripped Michigan of its delegates to the national convention because the state party moved up its primary date. The major Democratic candidates have not campaigned in the state. Hillary Rodham Clinton is on the ballot, but Barack Obama and John Edwards are not.
Michigan Republicans face the same situation, but those candidates are contesting the primary.
Michigan-based independent pollster Ed Sarpolus said McCain can win if he gets enough Democrats to cross over, as he did eight years ago. The momentum from New Hampshire certainly gives him a chance.
"Romney's had money, time and organization. … He's got older voters who remember his dad," Sarpolus said. "The only reason McCain's in play is because of New Hampshire."