Romney Rides the Republican Wave in Michigan GOP Primary

January 16, 2008 · 12:05 AM EST

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, whose father served as Michigan’s governor and campaigned as a hometown favorite, won the Michigan Republican primary Tuesday by rolling up clear wins among self-described conservatives and Republicans.

Romney’s victory resuscitates a failing campaign, adding further chaos to an already confused Republican Presidential race.

Second-place finisher John McCain came up short in a state that he won eight years ago because Independents and Democrats failed to turn out at the same rate that they did in 2000.

Eight years ago, Michigan Democrats constituted 17 percent of primary voters in the GOP contest, while Independents constituted 35 percent of primary voters. Self-identified Republicans were less than half (48 percent) of all GOP primary voters then.

But this time, more than two out of three voters in the GOP primary identified themselves as Republicans, and Romney won them comfortably. McCain won Independents and Democrats this time as he did eight years ago.

McCain continued to do well, as he did in New Hampshire, among primary voters who disapproved of the war in Iraq, who described themselves as moderates and who identified Iraq as the nation’s top problem.

In addition to winning conservatives and self-identified Republicans, Romney did well among voters who valued experience, supported the war in Iraq, favored deporting illegal aliens, said that abortion should always be illegal, said that they were “enthusiastic” or “satisfied” with the Bush Administration, and lived in the Detroit suburbs.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee finished a distant third, drawing notable support only from evangelical Christians, from voters who said abortion should always be illegal and from voters who said that the religious beliefs of their candidate matter “a great deal.” However, he lost evangelicals to Romney.

The primary results once again raise questions about McCain’s ability to attract Republican voters, who will be crucial in a number of upcoming contests that allow only registered Republicans to participate.

McCain voters are far more secular than the typical Republican, far less satisfied with President Bush and far less conservative. That’s not a formula for winning the Republican Presidential nomination.

Michigan Republicans also showed little interest in Huckabee’s message of economic populism, even though the state has been suffering for years from economic problems. That raises questions about the breadth of Huckabee’s appeal even in his own party.

Romney continues to show strength among upscale, core Republican voters, an important constituency in future GOP contests. Still, Michigan is Romney’s first major win (he also won the Wyoming caucuses), and he has expended considerable resources in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan.

Romney must now decide whether to compete fully in South Carolina, where McCain and Huckabee are expected to run well, or to focus on Florida.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has bypassed the first few contests to compete in Florida and on February 5, benefits from Romney’s win, since it keeps the GOP race wide open.