Romney Wins Michigan GOP Primary
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
SOUTHFIELD, Mich., Jan. 15 -- Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney resoundingly won the Michigan presidential primary Tuesday, seizing his first big victory in the Republican competition and blunting the momentum of his chief rival, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).
Romney's triumph in the state where he was born and where his father served as governor further scrambles a GOP field in which no candidate has been able to win more than one major contest. McCain captured first place in the New Hampshire primary Jan. 8 and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee topped the Iowa field five days earlier.
The race now shifts to South Carolina, where a tough three-way contest is expected in the first Southern state to vote this primary season. McCain and Huckabee flew to the Palmetto State before the voting in Michigan ended, and Romney will head there Wednesday for a bus tour through the state.
With 89 percent counted, Romney had won 39 percent of the vote to McCain's 30 percent. Huckabee trailed with 16 percent.
The surprisingly easy win in Michigan by a candidate whom many had written off vaults Romney back into contention and reaffirms the sharpened campaign message that he debuted several days ago: an attack on Washington and an emphasis on the need for dramatic change in the way politics is practiced.
In his speech Tuesday night, Romney proclaimed a "victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism," and he promised to carry his new theme into the rest of the primary states.
"Guess what they're doing in Washington?" he asked supporters in a cramped ballroom in Southfield. "They're worrying. . . . Washington is broken and we're going to do something about it."
Romney adopted that message just hours after the Iowa caucuses, when Democratic Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) used a similar message of change to defeat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.). In New Hampshire, Romney attacked McCain as a standard-bearer of the old guard, but he was overwhelmed by the strength of the independent vote for McCain and by the senator's close ties to the people there.
In Michigan, it was a different story. Here, it was Romney whose long connection to the state appeared to have helped. The son of a former car-company chief, Romney pledged billions in Washington aid to bolster automakers. And his anti-Washington, pro-change message resonated with Republicans in the state whose economic fortunes have declined along with the auto industry.
"The change message, with the governor's ability to get things done, is obviously our strongest message right now," said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden.
Huckabee placed third in Michigan but has spent most of the last week in South Carolina, appearing at churches in the hopes of appealing to the state's large evangelical community. Former Tennessee senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.), who came in fifth in Michigan with less than 4 percent of the vote, will make his last stand there on Saturday.
For McCain, the Michigan loss raises questions about whether his campaign can build support beyond New Hampshire, especially among mainstream Republicans who backed Romney strongly in Michigan.