U.S. Presidential Election 2008

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Economy may be key in Michigan vote today

Michigan's Republican presidential primary today is this election year's first clear referendum on who voters think can best manage — and revive — the slumping economy, in a state where the November jobless rate was 7.4 percent — the nation's highest. With most major Democratic candidates not competing here, the focus is on the Republican candidates. Two new polls Monday suggested that Arizona Sen. John McCain now holds a narrow lead over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Michigan, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee running a strong third in both polls, one for Zogby and the other for The Detroit News. A Jan. 9-11 McClatchy-MSNBC survey by Mason-Dixon, however, found 11 percent of voters undecided and an additional 39 percent who could still change their minds.

Romney stresses his family ties to Michigan, recalling how he uniquely understands the state's plight, since his father was once the highly regarded president of American Motors, and later, the governor.

"I remember when Michigan was the pride of America, the envy of the world," Romney told the Detroit Economic Club. Later he toured the city's mammoth auto show and criticized McCain's push for higher fuel-efficiency standards he said would hurt the nation's auto industry.

McCain, appearing at rallies in the western part of the state Monday, said that government programs aimed at helping workers are outdated. He'd revamp jobless benefits and retraining efforts to prepare people for what he calls the "new jobs of the future."

Because Michigan's primary violates Democratic National Committee rules intended to regulate the timing of primaries, Sen. Barack Obama and John Edwards withdrew from the state's race, leaving Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as the party's only major candidate on the ballot. Clinton did not campaign in the state, and a last-minute campaign by supporters of Edwards and Obama, such as Rep. John Conyers, urges voters to vote "uncommitted" to signal dissatisfaction with Clinton.

State rules allow anyone to vote in any party's primary, and it was independents and crossover Democrats who gave McCain the win in 2000.

No matter what happens Tuesday, the GOP race for president won't be any clearer. Huckabee, who is polling third in Michigan, expects a strong showing in South Carolina. Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson is also concentrating on South Carolina. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's strategy is to focus on Florida and the Super Tuesday states.

Campaign coverage drawing TV viewers

CNN says it is beginning a nightly prime-time wrap-up of election news, further evidence that the 2008 presidential campaign is a television hit.

The one-hour show, "CNN Election Center," will be hosted by John Roberts and a rotating collection of other CNN personalities. It will air opposite its rivals' prime-time heavyweights, Bill O'Reilly on Fox News Channel and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.

The three news networks collectively averaged 8 million viewers for their prime-time coverage of the New Hampshire primary. The same night in 2004 was watched by 3.57 million, according to Nielsen Media Research. CNN earned a rare prime-time victory over Fox News Channel on New Hampshire primary night, by a ratio of 3.3 million viewers to 3.1 million.

It was a similar increase for Iowa caucus coverage, from 3.4 million in 2004 to 6 million this year. Fox beat CNN in Iowa by about the same margin, Nielsen said.

ABC News also drew more than 8 million viewers to its prime-time debates the Saturday before the New Hampshire primary, well above what it typically does that night with entertainment programming.