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Michigan Primary: Voters Head to the Polls

Rick Pluta
Managing Editor and State Capitol Bureau Chief, Michigan Public Radio Network
Tuesday, January 15, 2008 10:00 AM

Rick Pluta, state Capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, was online Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 10 a.m. ET to discuss what Michigan looks like on Primary Day and how the GOP candidates have campaigned.

The transcript follows.

Pluta joined Michigan Public Radio in 1996 after covering the state Capitol for The Oakland Press, WJR-AM and United Press International.

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Washington: If Democrats vote in the Republican primary in large numbers, are they more likely to vote for McCain (i.e. vote their honest preferences) or Romney (to stir up mischief)?

Rick Pluta: Well, I don't really know. Eight years ago, when McCain won the GOP primary with a Democratic assist, things were a lot more clear-cut. There was no Democratic primary (LaRouche was the only name on the ballot), and there were only two GOP candidates. The Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler, had vowed his state would be a "firewall" against McCain, which became an irresistible invitation for Dems to get involved. In '08, are those crossover Dems going to go for the least objectionable Republican, or the one most likely to lose in November? Daily Kos also is calling for Dems to vote for Romney to keep him in the race. And all of that is assuming Dems don't decide to stick with their primary.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: What is the weather like throughout Michigan today, and have you seen that the weather has an impact? Ironically, I have heard theories that the weather can impact both ways: that in bad weather people are more apt to get out of the homes, and that in bad weather people are more apt not to want to stand in lines to vote.

Rick Pluta: Apparently, weather is suppressing turnout a little in Western Michigan near the Lake Michigan shoreline. (By the way, you folks in Harrisburg have the most beautiful State Capitol I've ever seen.)

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Reading, Pa.: Rick, did Michigan achieve what it wanted to by moving it's primary up in the schedule?

Rick Pluta: Depends. Michigan Democrats are unlikely to have a say in whom their presidential nominee is, but it does seem to have shifted discussions to the economy, manufacturing and enforcing trade agreements.

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Chelsea, Mich.: Hi Rick. With the Democratic National Committee stripping Michigan of its delegates at the National Convention, haven't they set themselves up for multiple lawsuits that could put the entire 2008 election in question? And why wasn't Florida stripped of their delegates after they moved up their primary date? Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: DNC Strips Florida Of 2008 Delegates (Post, Aug. 26, 2007)

Rick Pluta: I'll answer the last question first. Florida got the same treatment as Michigan -- the DNC says it won't seat the delegation in Denver. Michigan (and I presume Florida) Democrats are planning to challenge the DNC decision with a floor fight, if it comes to that. The more likely scenario is that a clear nominee emerges before the convention and calls for the delegates to be seated.

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East Lansing, Mich.: Why should I (or anyone) vote in the Michigan primary?

Rick Pluta: Well, that's between you and your political conscience. If you don't want your name going onto a list owned by one of the two major political parties, you might want to think twice.

Clearly, Republicans have more incentive to play. There are delegates at stake and GOP candidates have been visiting the state. Obama and Edwards supporters might want to vote "uncommitted" to embarrass Hillary. And there is the slight possibility that delegates will be seated in time to help decide a floor fight over the nomination. (Few people see that as a likely scenario, but it is a strange year.)

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Washington: The Democratic National Committee has stripped Michigan of their delegates, but I read something about how Democrats can vote "uncommitted," and that somehow will help the situation. Could you please explain what's going on there and offer any guesses as to how well it will work? Thanks!

Rick Pluta: Obama and Edwards supporters are asking voters to choose "uncommitted" because those delegates can vote for Obama or Edwards, and because a large turnout of "uncommitted" voters would embarrass Clinton.

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Morristown, N.J.: As a political junkie, I love primary days and hearing about the exit polling. With all the polls being so wrong in the Democratic race in New Hampshire, will pollsters hold back on their findings today for fear of being embarrassed again? Am I going to be deprived of this guilty pleasure?

Rick Pluta: Pollsters back off from polling? You might as well ask Kucinich to stop running. There are firms doing exit polling, although I'm not aware of any early results.

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Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Is Michigan a pretty organized place -- in other words, results will be in quickly and accurately? Will Michigan have the kind of controversy New Hampshire had with different results for optical scanning ballots (cities) and hand ballots (the hinterlands) for the very same candidates? It other words, does Michigan have the reputation for honest and above-board elections, instead of the hanky panky we saw with election officials in Ohio and Florida? Thanks much.

Rick Pluta: There are pockets where votes can come in late. And this will be the first big test of Michigan's law that requires voters to show a picture ID or sign an affidavit saying they don't have one. It's very similar to the Indiana law that was just before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Washington: Will memories of George Romney's governorship affect Mitt Romney's campaign for better or worse, or not at all?

Rick Pluta: Older voters -- say in their late 50s and above -- will recall Romney, and he was popular. But the elder Romney was more of a centrist than the son, and Mitt has distanced himself from some of his father's policies, the state income tax for example. For younger voters it probably doesn't make a difference. In fact, all they'd probably know about the elder Romney is the infamous "brainwashing" comment on Vietnam during his brief presidential bid.

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Manchester, England: I wonder if these candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, remain still too indistinct from one another politically; something along the lines of what Ralph Nader condemned, that there is so little party difference anymore that they should all be called "the Republicrats" and we are left to vote simply for the lesser of two evils. Secondly, if pressed, which candidate is most likely to promise a chicken in every pot?

Rick Pluta: Well, on the GOP side there's a debate about whether the old Reagan coalition of religious conservatives, military hawks and anti-tax crusaders is splintering. Huckabee is a moral conservative but is unappealing to the anti-tax wing. McCain also is viewed by some as squishy on taxes and too interventionist on foreign policy. Romney seems to be making an appeal to the Reagan movement conservatives, although some doubt his sincerity. But there doesn't seem to be a single big wedge issue that's distinguishing the GOP candidates. The Democrats, on the other hand, seem to be focused a lot more on debating how to get the U.S. out of Iraq.

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Farmington Hills, Mich.: The state parties on both sides seem to be confident that the delegates (all the Democrats and the other half of the Republicans) will be reinstated at their respective national conventions. Are there any indications from the national parties that support this?

Rick Pluta: They very likely will be seated once a nominee is determined. So, they get to go to the convention as soon as they don't matter.

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New York: If you could for the moment put aside all national and party considerations, which candidate (Democratic or Republican) in your personal opinion really might be able to help Michigan and the auto industry, if she or he became president?

Rick Pluta: Endorse a candidate? I'm not going to touch that. Romney is making the strongest pitch -- manufacturing in his DNA, etc. McCain is coming in to inform people of the harsh reality, while Huckabee says it's time for the nation to help the ol' Arsenal of Democracy. I've seen very little in the way of concrete proposals to help out manufacturing states like Michigan.

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Baltimore: What time do the polls close? How organized are the Michigan electoral boards -- will we get results before bedtime?

Rick Pluta: 8 p.m. Eastern. We'll get unofficial results tonight, but it'll be a few days before the election boards formally ratify the results.

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San Antonio: Will automotive jobs come back to Detroit, as Romney asserts, or is McCain's position correct that certain automotive jobs never will return? Because Michigan is really feeling the effects of the increasing economic downturn, how do you think this economic issue will resonate at the polls in terms of voter turnout and choice of which candidate to vote for?

Rick Pluta: On this, the economists seem to be with McCain. The domestic auto industry is restructuring around a global marketplace that requires job cuts. The out-of-high-school-and-onto-the-assembly line jobs are becoming fewer and fewer.

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Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Thanks for taking questions. Do you believe the Democratic National Committee's taking away of Michigan delegates will help sway voters in November to vote for the GOP, or to vote in Republican primary tomorrow?

Rick Pluta: That's what Republicans are hoping for. Right now Michigan is a swing state that leans blue. The current president's father was the last Republican presidential candidate to win Michigan. But we do have statewide elected Republicans, so a GOP win is doable, and the Republicans will make the case that Democrats disrespected Michigan by sitting out the primary. (Yes, Clinton is on the ballot, but she refused to campaign here.)

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Roseland, N.J.: Did it surprise you at all how far Mitt Romney went in tailoring a Michigan-specific campaign? Specifically saying he'd concentrate on Michigan in his first 100 days in office? How did that play, do you think? Hearing it from outside the state, it seems like it just reinforces his perceived "pandering" problem.

Rick Pluta: My question is, other than "focus," what would Mitt Romney do in those 100 days?

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Will the field be narrowed?: You said "you might as well ask Kucinich to stop running"; I put Keyes in that same boat of politicians who more or less are making a statement rather than realistically running for president. But with the mixed Iowa/New Hampshire results, not a single Republican candidate has dropped out of the race! And this despite some rather poor performances -- e.g. Paul and Hunter. (I don't recall seeing any announcements that they are ending their campaigns?) I can understand why Giuliani is in because of his strategy; does Thompson have a Southern strategy? Do Paul and Hunter have late Giuliani-like strategies, or are they making statements ala Kucinich and Keyes? Or will Michigan finally narrow the Republican field some?

Rick Pluta: There are some people saying that if Romney can't win Michigan, he'll have to hang it up -- although I'm betting win or lose, he hangs in until at least Feb. 5.

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Baltimore: What kind of voting machines does Michigan have? Electronic or paper ballot?

Rick Pluta: Optical scan with paper backup.

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River Falls, Wis.: McCain appears to have established small leads in South Carolina, Nevada and California (and possibly Florida as well). Are those leads in jeopardy if McCain finishes a close second today in Michigan?

Rick Pluta: It seems that if McCain does respectably in Michigan, he remains alive, although a win is always nicer. He seems to be putting a lot into South Carolina, which is the state that sunk him eight years ago. If Michigan is personal for Romney, I imagine South Carolina is personal for McCain.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: I'm a lifelong Democrat disillusioned with Hillary Clinton - in fact, after her "Meet the Press" interview this weekend, I will not vote for her in a general election How should I cast my vote in the Michigan primary to reflect this?

Rick Pluta: The Michigan Democratic Party and the Obama and Edwards campaigns would tell you to vote "uncommitted." I'm sure Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel would also be pleased to have your support -- although they'd have to get at least 15 percent of the vote to win a congressional district's delegates.

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Annapolis, Md.: I did not know Florida was also stripped. Why would the Democratic National Committee deny so many delegate votes? And why is the Republican National Committee not imposing the same restrictions?

Rick Pluta: The GOP decided it was sufficient to cut the delegations in half. The Dems' decision baffled a lot of analysts. Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report calls it the "delegate death sentence." We'll see if this has any ramifications in November.

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Miami: Have Michigan college students been targeted in the Republican campaign? Whom are they likely to support?

Rick Pluta: College students seem to like McCain and Obama. I'm also seeing a lot of kids in Ron Paul T-shirts on college campuses.

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Washington: Why didn't Obama or Edwards put their names on the ballot? (In fact, did they remove their names from the ballot?) Did they think Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in to win the primary regardless? It now seems that they care about the election, otherwise they wouldn't be urging their supporters to vote uncommitted. Do people think this was a miscalculation on their part?

Rick Pluta: Some people do think it was a miscalculation. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (a Hillary supporter) says it shows Clinton was playing "long ball" while Obama and Edwards were focused on surviving through the early states.

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Michigan/General Romney Question: Rick, is it conceivable that Romney could win enough delegates by consistently coming in second place to ultimately win the nomination? If McCain wins Michigan, Huckabee wins South Carolina, Giuliani wins Florida, etc., etc., etc., is it possible that Romney could stick around simply by consistently being "okay?"

Rick Pluta: If the race splinters with no one winning a lot of big states, it is conceivable that he could go for a while with a lot of strong "silvers" with no clear front-runner . But eventually he's got to show people that he can win a competitive race.

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Claverack, N.Y.: Are we getting any word on what turnout is like so far?

Rick Pluta: A little light because of the weather.

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Austin, Texas: So whatever became of the great firewall, John Engler? Statues of him all over the place, are there? Got the economy moving into the new century, did he? One of the hallowed among GOP faithful, is he? So ... why isn't he on the ballot for president? Regards.

Rick Pluta: He's doing fine. He's the president of the National Association of Manufacturers and his home has been featured in Architectural Digest.

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Washington: What do you think has been the downfall for Romney? Is it the alleged flip-flops on several issues, the negative campaigning, the belief he'll say anything to get elected, or is it more the rise of Huckabee among evangelicals, and establishment Republicans rallying somewhat around McCain as the least offensive alternative?

Rick Pluta: I don't know that Romney has fallen, but everything that you've outlined has been a part of the case made by Romney's opposition.

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Washington: Given the "one-state recession" and the fact that Michigan voted Democratic the past few times but never does so by much, is there a desire for change among Michigan residents where they might consider voting for the GOP in the general?

Rick Pluta: There is a strong desire for change, but no one can agree what that is. GOP leaders say it's time Michigan became a right-to-work state. Imagine how that goes over in the home of the Flint sit-down strike.

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Anonymous: Who is feeling more confident coming into today -- McCain or Romney?

Rick Pluta: Don't know. I think everyone's kind of on pins and needles. Can McCain do it again? Is Romney a "favorite son" or has he lost touch? Evangelicals have turned Michigan Republican politics on its head before (Pat Robertson in 1988). Could it happen again?

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Washington: What would be a good percentage of the vote for Gov. Huckabee? I'll assume a finish other than third will be good, if not better. If worse, is that bad?

Rick Pluta: I think Huckabee would be happy with third. Strong third would be a moral victory. Second place would be an upset.

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Westcliffe, Colo.: Does the DNC understand that disenfranchising the base in Michigan and Florida mean that the other 48 states have just that much more clout at the convention? I'm sure that's going to sit well with voters in those two states, as in "I think I'll just sit the general election out." That's what I'd do if my vote was taken away from me.

Rick Pluta: Michigan and Florida Democrats are ready to make the other 48 states vote at the Denver convention for either them or Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Michigan Democratic leaders also say the nominee will spend a lot of time here in order to make nice.

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Annapolis, Md.: Follow up to the DNC and GOP delegate "death sentence" -- what does the "half-delegate" package in Florida do to Rudy's grand strategy to concentrate on Florida, which now appears to be a "half" vote.

Rick Pluta: Well, it sure doesn't help.

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Reston, Va.: How do you like Ron Paul in Michigan? I was delighted to see the viewers at home considered him the winner of the debate last week in South Carolina, as Fox News clearly hates giving him coverage.

Rick Pluta: Ron Paul is polling in the single digits, and while I don't rely too much on polls (especially ones with small samples) I don't see him breaking the threshold that allows him to win delegates. That said, Paul may have the most passionate supporters. And it's been fascinating to see all the different places his signs and literature have turned up.

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Massachusetts: Do the Reagan Democrats I've been hearing on the news really believe that Mitt Romney is on their side? This is a real head-scratcher. The guy made his fortune by "downsizing" companies and selling them for huge profits. Why would anyone believe that he has any interest in ensuring living wages and benefits for blue collar workers?

Rick Pluta: That is the case Democrats will try to make in Michigan if Romney is the nominee. Union voters are still very strong here.

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Glens Falls, N.Y.: As a former Michigan resident with half my family still residing there, I don't understand the Democratic side of the primaries. How is the current situation (Obama and Edwards not on the ballot and Hillary not campaigning) serving the Democratic voters? Rather, how is it not disenfranchising voters? How is it expected to resolve itself in or by the convention? I've heard they likely will end up counting Michigan and Florida, but how can they without an actual vote by the people? I don't understand it at all. And why aren't people talking more about it? Considerable number of delegates at stake, no? Thanks for any insight.

Rick Pluta: A lot of people aren't getting the Democratic primary. Party leaders say Michigan will be influential in Denver because the nominee will demand that all the delegates be seated. That means, though, that there has to be a nominee. So, Michigan's path to influence in Denver requires it to be irrelevant in the primary.

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Silver Spring, Md.:"He could go for a while with a lot of strong 'silvers.' " Why does it seem no one cares to mention Romney's gold in Wyoming? I think he got more delegates there than McCain got from New Hampshire. And Romney still leads the overall pledged delegate count. I think even Romney ignored the Wyoming results when he mentioned he got two silvers after New Hampshire; why ignore a win?

Rick Pluta: You're right, of course. Poor Wyoming. They go early and even the winner hardly notices.

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Bentonville, Ark.: Who was the GOP front-runner three weeks ago, and has that changed since the caucuses? If so, who has benefited and who has suffered from the progress of the past three weeks?

Rick Pluta: McCain and Huckabee were clearly the beneficiary of momentum out of Iowa and New Hampshire and into Michigan. For some reason, as someone just pointed out, Romney's Wyoming victory didn't seem to register.

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Hartford, Conn.: Will the DNC's sanctions in the Michigan primary have any effect on moderate democrats and independents in the general election? It seems that this potentially could sway them towards the Republican candidates.

Rick Pluta: Independents, perhaps. I think a lot of it depends on what the candidates say after the primary season is ended. Michigan will be in play, although organizationally Democrats/unions probably have the edge.

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Hartford, Conn.: How has the McCain campaign approached Michigan, given that they have had to decrease spending in the state?

Rick Pluta: By spending a lot of time here. Romney's outspent McCain and the others by something like three-to-one (or, I should say $3-to-$1). But, especially in a primary, ads only take you so far. There reaches a point of diminishing returns.

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Montpelier, Vt.: What role does the religious right plan in Michigan politics? Will they participate today?

Rick Pluta: Yes, but the question is, does anyone speak for the "religious right" anymore? The organizer of Michigan's gay marriage ban campaign is pushing for Huckabee. The chair of that same committee is behind Romney.

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Anonymous:"Is it conceivable that Romney could win enough delegates by consistently coming in second place to ultimately win the nomination?" Aren't most GOP primaries winner-take-all?

Rick Pluta: I don't know the answer to that. My point was that Romney could survive for a while on "silvers" but eventually he's got to register a credible win.

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Rick Pluta: Wow, the time went fast. I hope I got to everyone's questions. This has been fun. Thanks!

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