DETROIT, Michigan (AFP) — The generally Democratic state of Michigan is shaping up to be a key state in the Republican race for the White House, as mixed results in Iowa and New Hampshire place new emphasis on its upcoming primary.
While the Democrats have largely refrained from campaigning in Michigan because of a dispute over the timing of the state's January 15 primary, Republican candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney look set for a showdown.
"Michigan will be an interesting indicator. Whoever wins will get a good piece of momentum," said former representative Joe Schwarz, who ran McCain's Michigan campaign in 2000 and plans to volunteer for him this year.
"McCain won Michigan in February of 2000, but essentially came to a screeching halt because he ran out of money. A win in Michigan would be helpful and by golly, I hope we win. But it's just one step in a very long trek."
Like other states, Michigan worries about the war in Iraq and health care. But the economy remains the looming issue.
The shedding of hundreds of thousands of jobs by the domestic auto industry has produced the highest unemployment rate in the country. Economists say many of those jobs will not return.
McCain flew to Michigan just hours after his surprise victory in New Hampshire to begin an intensive tour through the state.
At a rally near Detroit Wednesday the Arizona senator used folksy humor to hammer away at wasteful congressional spending, the war in Iraq, Michigan's struggling economy and reliance on foreign oil after being introduced as the "Comeback Kid."
"The word 'kid' doesn't fit as well with me, but we sure showed them what a comeback was," said the 71-year-old McCain.
He also promised education and retraining programs to help displaced workers, saying "we are a nation that doesn't leave people behind."
Romney, who was long considered the national favorite but lost both Iowa and New Hampshire, is now up against the ropes, and analysts say he must get a win in Michigan, his childhood home state where his father served as a popular governor.
His campaign announced on Wednesday that it was pulling ads in the key states of Florida and South Carolina in order to pump more ads into Michigan.
"I understand what it takes to grow an economy and why an economy becomes weaker," the former Massachusetts governor told a crowd in Grand Rapids.
"I'm going to use all those years of experience and my love for this state to go to work for Michigan to end the one-state recession and make sure Michigan has a brighter future."
Meanwhile, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus, hastily scheduled a Michigan appearance Friday following a debate in South Carolina the night before.
While he has not campaigned extensively in the state, he is nonetheless leading in the latest poll of Michigan voters, which was taken shortly after his Iowa win.
A poll released Wednesday by the Lansing-based Rossman Group has Huckabee at 23 percent, Romney at 22 percent and McCain at 18 percent among 300 likely Republican voters surveyed January 6 and 7.
The poll has a margin of error of 5.8 percent.
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is in second place nationally, held just eight percent followed by former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson at four percent and Texas Representative Ron Paul at three percent.
None have campaign stops scheduled for Michigan, although Giuliani is airing television ads in some parts of the state.
Democratic voters won't have much help from the candidates in making their choice, as all candidates except Dennis Kucinich are honoring pledges not to campaign in Michigan.
Barack Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson removed their names from the ballot in deference to the national party when the state jumped ahead of "Super Tuesday," February 5, when more than 20 states hold primaries, without permission.
But they are urging party members to mark their ballots "uncommitted" so that Hillary Clinton, the only front-runner on the ticket, does not win the state by default.
Michigan has been barred from sending delegates to the Democratic National Convention in August as punishment for moving forward its primary date.
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