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Mitt Romney scored his first major primary victory Tuesday in his native Michigan, a win he desperately needed to give his weakened candidacy new life and set the stage for a three-man Republican showdown in South Carolina in just four days.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
DETROIT (AP) — Mitt Romney edged ahead of Republican rival John McCain in early vote counting Tuesday, seeking to revive his weakened presidential candidacy with a hard-fought victory in his native state.
No matter the winner, the state's GOP primary promised to further roil a volatile nomination fight that lacks a clear favorite.
In very early returns, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, was narrowly leading McCain, the Arizona senator who was hoping that independents and Democrats would join Republicans to help him repeat his 2000 triumph here. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, trailed.
"Michigan is going to vote for a Romney again!" declared Romney, whose father was Michigan's governor in the 1960s.
In a trend that could bode well for him and poorly for McCain, fewer independents and Democrats voted in the Republican primary than eight years ago, according to surveys of voters as they left polling places by The Associated Press and TV networks. This year's GOP contest in Michigan, a state that has open primaries, had a much more normal partisan split, with a solid majority of Republicans and far fewer Democrats.
The economy proved the most important issue for Republicans in Michigan, the state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation and an ailing auto industry. Given four choices, half of Michigan Republican primary voters picked the economy as the most important issue, while one in five picked Iraq, one in seven immigration and one in 10 terrorism.
A mere 20 percent of eligible voters were expected to show up at polling stations across frigid and snowy Michigan; turnout was likely to be depressed by a Democratic race of little to no consequence. Hillary Rodham Clinton was the only top contender on the Democratic ballot.
For Republicans, the stakes varied.
Of the three candidates competing hard here, Romney needed a Michigan victory the most to invigorate a campaign weakened by searing losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. He was the only one planning to watch the voting returns in Michigan; his top Michigan opponents, McCain and Huckabee, campaigned in the state earlier in the day but left by afternoon to plant themselves in South Carolina, which votes Saturday.
Up for grabs in Michigan were 30 Republican delegates.
A muddle from the start, the GOP race has grown ever more fluid as the first states voted over the past two weeks.
Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses, McCain prevailed in New Hampshire's primary, and Romney was second to both — but claimed victory in scarcely contested Wyoming. Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator, is camping out in South Carolina looking for his first win. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, is doing the same in Florida, which votes Jan. 29.
Romney's Michigan roots figured prominently in his campaign here. He was born and raised in the state and his late father, George, was head of American Motors and a three-term governor in the 1960s. Romney announced his presidential candidacy in Michigan a year ago, campaigned in it far more than his rivals and spent considerably more money on advertising.
McCain had a built-in advantage of his own. He won the state's primary eight years ago on the strength of independent and Democratic-crossover voters, and he still had a network of hard-core backers. This year, McCain didn't have to compete full-bore for non-Republican voters because the Democratic race in Michigan was essentially a beauty contest. Six months after his campaign nearly collapsed, he now leads national polls.
Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, hoped to stage a surprise finish with the support of Christian evangelicals who live in the more conservative, western part of the state. With his populist pitch, Huckabee also wanted to do well in Reagan Republican country outside of Detroit. He came from behind to win the Iowa caucuses and sought another surprise finish in Michigan.
The economy dominated the weeklong Michigan campaign. The state has been reeling from the U.S. auto industry's downturn and has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 7.4 percent.
Michigan doesn't typically hold its primary until February but state party officials scheduled it earlier to try to give the state more say in picking a president. The Republican National Committee objected and cut the number of Michigan delegates to the national convention by half as punishment while the Democratic National Committee stripped the state of all 156 delegates to its national convention, including 28 superdelegates who would not have been bound by the outcome of the primary.
This program aired on January 15, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.
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