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Last fall, Michigan Gov. John Engler promised Republicans that his state's primary would be the "firewall" to opponents of presidential candidate George W. Bush.
It was a promise that Engler could not deliver.
Arizona Sen. John S. McCain notched a narrow but significant win in the Michigan primary last night. He also won handily in his home state of Arizona.
With majority of the precincts reporting in Michigan, McCain led Bush, 50 percent to 44 percent. Former ambassador Alan L. Keyes '72 registered 5 percent in the state.
A little startled by the defeat, Bush, who was campaigning in Missouri, said, "This is a marathon, and I'm going to be in it all the way to the end--and some primaries you win and sometimes you don't."
But pollster John Zogby, who has proved his credibility to the campaigns by his accurate tracking polls, said McCain's victory proves the senator can create enthusiasm among voters in a populous, diverse state.
"It's a whole new ballgame," Zogby said.
McCain can thank a huge turnout in the state--more than 1,000,000 voters--for his victory.
Exit polls show that nearly 51 percent of primary voters were either Democrats or Independents. Eighty-two percent of those voters chose McCain.
Bush gained the vote of a large majority of the state's Republican voters, but since Republicans comprised only a plurality of voters in the primary, Bush did not have enough support to win.
Even before the polls closed last night, Engler and other prominent Bush supporters sought to downplay McCain's win.
"This is the first time in American politics that we've had a Republican candidate seeking hard-core Democrats to come into our primary," he told reporters.
Bush charged that non-Republicans had stolen the primary for McCain.
No matter where his support came from, McCain conceded yesterday that his campaign was in a must-win situation.
"Every day is do or die," he said while voting his home state of Arizona. "We're a high-wire act and an insurgency campaign."
His supporters hoped to profit from his victories.
"[Last night's wins] will reinvigorate the troops. Some people were feeling a little down...but this will help to bring focus back to the race," said Mattie J. Germer '03, the Harvard coordinator for McCain.
Exit polls showed Bush winning votes from people who cared most about abortion, moral values and taxes, while McCain won more from those concerned about international relations, campaign finance reform and federal entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
In Michigan, McCain stressed his plan to devote a majority of the projected federal budget surplus to shoring up the Social Security trust fund. This played well among the state's blue-collar workers, exit polls showed.
Votes Equal Cash
And since most of the Super Tuesday primaries are limited to party voters only--New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina were open to registered voters in all parties--McCain's supporters said they expect he will focus on promoting his conservative credentials.
With Bush's financial resources strained from his bruising loss in New Hampshire and television-heavy campaigning in South Carolina, McCain's campaign machinery plans to spend at least as much as Bush in the next two weeks.
"We're not going to be outspent 10 to 1[by Bush] like we have been, especially if he keeps spending like he has been," Germer said.
Bush, who spent more than $3 million in one week alone last month, has had to reinvigorate his own fundraising apparatus in order to keep pace.
A Look Ahead
Beginning today, the candidates will turn their attention to Washington State, which will hold its primary Feb. 29.
"It will be interesting to see what happens in Washington state," said Luke P. McLoughlin '00, the Harvard coordinator for Bradley. "A victory can give [Bradley] momentum into the March 7 primaries."
Democrats are already focused on the Northeast, where five New England states, including Massachusetts, will join New York on Super Tuesday.
"The Northeast should be pretty fertile ground for McCain," Zogby said.
His platform of campaign finance reform should appeal to the traditionally liberal Northeast voters, Zogby said.
McCain has tried unsuccessfully for four straight years to get the Senate to adopt stricter fund-raising controls, including a ban on the unregulated donations to parties known as "soft money."
Bush, the first presidential candidate ever to raise more than $50 million, would ban soft money contributions from corporations and unions, but not from other groups. He would also raise the limit on individual contributions.
Bush has refused federal matching money for his campaign, freeing him to spend as much as he wants.
But many voters will be concentrating on making sure the economy continues to grow, predicts Martin A. Linsky, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government.
"I don't think voters in the Northeast are unique," he said.
"Their central concerns are keeping the economy humming along, and making sure the growth extends throughout the community," he added.
Both McCain and Bush have proposed tax cuts, though the Texas Governor's reductions are more generous.
The Democratic race is not as simple to characterize, particularly in the Northeast.
Massachusetts, one of the most solidly Democratic states in the nation, will likely go for Al Gore '69--whom Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54-56 has endorsed--and McCain, Zogby predicts.
"In the Massachusetts GOP primary voters will look more like voters in Michigan than like voters in South Carolina, because of the differences in ideology," Linsky said.
Both Gore and former senator Bill Bradley support a soft money ban and full federal financing of elections. Both advocate spending increases for child care programs, though Bradley proposes targeted tax credits for child care expenses.
The two Democrats differ only slightly on defense policy, though only Gore supports what he calls "sensible" increases in the military's budget.
In the other New England states, Maine, Vermont Rhode Island and Connecticut, anything is possible, Zogby said. All four have very independent streaks in politics and are ruled by "Yankee conservatism," he said.
Both Bradley and McCain might benefit from New York's history of voting for the underdog candidate, Zogby predicts.
"Democrats in New York love to turn the world upside-down," he said. "It's hard to predict, but history is on [Bradley's] side."
Besides, Bradley is from New Jersey and played for the New York Knicks, Zogby added.
"Bradley has to do well, but it's a place where he has a footing," he said.
A "ham-handed" effort by Bush supporters to keep McCain off the ballot has backfired in New York, Zogby said.
"Not only was there bad press, but it really angered some rank-and-file Republicans," he said. "[McCain] could do well."
Candidates campaigning in New York need to remember that only about 15 percent of the primary vote comes from New York City, Zogby added.
"New York is not as daunting as one might think," he said. "Right now, there's a slight advantage to Bush. But if McCain comes in strong, all bets are off."
The Harvard Horserace
Germer and 30 Boston College students waved McCain signs at the Park Street subway station this morning.
Next weekend, McCain supporters around the nation are joining together for a day of community service, Germer said.
Bradley supporters will be working in the coming weeks in and around Boston, McLoughlin said
"We'll be reaching out to voters," he said. "All the essential things to make sure you get your vote out."
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