Romney win helped by party

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney

Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney makes a speech after winning the Michigan GOP primary Tuesday Jan. 15, 2008 at the Embassy Suites in Southfield, Mich.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 3:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 3:20 p.m.

WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney owes the Michigan triumph that revived his presidential bid to his winning groups his rivals wanted and finding happy, loyal Republicans. John McCain's defeat may be due to supporters who seemed to evaporate since his last time on the state's ballot.

Romney, who grew up in Michigan and whose father was a popular governor, got a big boost from the four in 10 who said his background in the state helped decide their vote, according to an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks. Fifty-eight percent voted for Romney, overcoming the big lead McCain had with those who said Romney's state ties didn't matter much.

The former Massachusetts governor's victory also came from a far broader coalition, including many voters who national polls say can be hard to find these days. He dominated the six in 10 Republican primary voters who support the war in Iraq; the 53 percent who are happy with President Bush administration overall; and the one-third who said positive things about the economy.

The economy, leading many national polls as the top issue on people's minds, was also the main concern of Michigan voters. Those most worried about the economy turned heavily to Romney, giving him 42 percent of their support, compared to 29 percent for McCain.

After days of promising tax breaks and other steps to revive the state's declining auto industry, Romney prevailed among the 58 percent who said their candidate's position on issues outweighed the importance of leadership qualities. In a campaign that only geared up over the last several days until then the candidates were focusing on New Hampshire Romney prevailed among voters who made their choices in the last three days.

Overall, Romney won a solid victory among voters calling themselves Republicans, outdistancing McCain among them 41 percent to 27 percent.

Romney also ate into blocs some rivals wanted as their own.

Less than two weeks after Mike Huckabee rode the shoulders of born again and evangelical Christian voters to victory in Iowa's GOP caucuses, Romney outpolled him among that group in Michigan, getting more than a third of their support. Romney beat Huckabee two-to-one among very conservative voters, and outdid him with people who wanted a candidate who shares their values.

He even got more votes than McCain from voters looking for a contender with the right experience. McCain has emphasized his long congressional career and his military service as preparing him for the White House.

It was eight years ago that McCain defeated George W. Bush in the Michigan GOP primary, largely thanks to one-sided margins the Arizona senator received from independents and Democrats. In Michigan, registered voters can vote in either party's primary, and in 2000 independents and Democrats accounted for 52 percent of the vote in the GOP contest.

Tuesday was different. McCain not only had smaller advantages among those two groups, but they were a lesser portion of voters. Independents were only a quarter of those in the Republican primary, while Democrats were just 7 percent.

The same was true with moderates, a pivotal part of McCain's support in 2000. They were a third of the GOP vote, a bit less than last time, and Tuesday he only got four in 10 of their votes, with Romney close behind. In 2000 almost two-thirds of moderates supported him.

McCain did well with those looking for a candidate who speaks his mind, think Iraq is a problem, and prefer leadership qualities to stances on issues. Veterans were also on McCain's side.

The biggest blow to Huckabee was Romney's capture of evangelical voters, but that merely echoed how the former Arkansas governor is struggling to find voting blocs he can dominate. Some of his strongest groups included those who want abortion to be illegal, values voters and the most conservative but in each case, he either trailed Romney or was about even with him.

Even with those who said it is crucial they share religious beliefs with their candidate, Huckabee only barely bested Romney. Romney has had problems attracting some Republicans because he is Mormon.

The exit poll was conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The AP and the networks. It involved samples in 40 precincts around Michigan of 1,362 voters in the Republican primary and 997 in the Democratic contest. The sampling margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points in GOP primary, 5 points in the Democratic one.

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