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Michigan, Choosing Romney, Names Economy Job No. 1

Author: Robert McMahon, Editor
January 16, 2008

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Mitt Romney’s Republican primary win (DetroitFreePress) in Michigan set in motion a spree of analysis about the wide-open nature of the party’s presidential campaign. It may also feed an intensifying debate in the party’s nominating process over the relative value of economic competence (PostDispatch)—Romney’s self-proclaimed strong suit—and national security credentials, touted by supporters of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as his strong suit.

Romney called his victory over McCain, the first after second-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, “a victory of optimism over Washington-style pessimism” (CBS). McCain told Michigan voters that jobs in the state’s shrinking manufacturing sector “are not coming back.” Remarking on his second place finish, he defended that as candor (WashPost): “We did what we always try to do: We went to Michigan and told people the truth.”

The contest in Michigan offered contrasting approaches to lifting a struggling state once rich in auto manufacturing jobs into a stronger position in the global economy. Romney, a successful private businessman and former Massachusetts governor, campaigned as a champion of Detroit’s beleaguered auto industry. He decried new fuel economy standards passed by Congress that he said would weigh even more heavily on the state. Romney said in a January 14 speech that as president he would “personally bring together industry, labor, Congressional and state leaders and together we will develop a plan to rebuild America’s automotive leadership.”

McCain, who supported the tougher fuel standards, retorted that the industry can not only meet the new standards but exceed them. He emphasized retraining  to help keep Americans competitive in the global economy (WashPost). “To compete more successfully in it, we must better prepare American workers and students to seize its opportunities,” he said.

But exit polling showed Romney inspired more confidence in Michigan, a state with 7.4 percent unemployment. More than half of Michigan’s GOP primary voters said the economy was the most important issue, well above the level with those sentiments in Iowa and New Hampshire, and of that number in Michigan a strong majority favored Romney. Of three other choices pollsters gave voters, less than 20 percent said Iraq was the most important issue, and fewer voters cited immigration and terrorism as the country’s most important issues (AP).

Michigan’s Democratic primary was of less immediate importance: All of the major candidates except for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) withdrew their names from the ballot after the party punished Michigan for moving up its primary date without party authorization. Clinton polled about 55 percent of the vote but its unclear whether the state’s delegates will figure in the party’s nominating process (CQ). As returns came in, Clinton and her main challengers, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), and John Edwards took part in a debate in Nevada in which economic and energy issues figured heavily. The candidates united in opposition to the opening of a nearly complete nuclear-storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, seen as an important step in triggering nuclear energy expansion in the United States. On nuclear power (Bloomberg) itself, Obama appeared to be most supportive of its use as an energy source.

As voting moves to separate party contests in South Carolina and Nevada this weekend, Michigan could be the touchstone for more feverish campaigning on economic issues. Gas prices this January in Michigan averaged ninety-two cents higher than in January of last year, according to one study. With the highest unemployment rate in the country, soaring foreclosure rates, and the state economy in the doldrums, Michigan voters had been expected to send out what the Detroit News calls “an economic SOS.”

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