One day before the Michigan primary, three Republican candidates stumped in search of votes and momentum in a state with the highest-in-the-nation unemployment rates and high rates of mortgage foreclosures.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who placed second in both Iowa and New Hampshire, is staking his candidacy on a comeback in his home state of Michigan, where he was born and raised and where his father, George Romney, served as chairman of American Motors Corp., was a three-term governor and ran for president in 1968.
In a speech today to the Detroit Economic Club, Romney said he, of all the candidates, was the most motivated to help Michigan recover.
"Michigan's economic worries should be America's worries," he said. "Detroit can only thrive if Washington is an engaged partner, not a disinterested observer."
Romney has said he hopes to win Michigan but would keep going forward even if he does not.
"We are going all the way through February. But I can tell you, it is very important to me.... I would like to see Michigan in the win column."
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who won the Michigan primary in 2000 before being routed by George W. Bush in South Carolina, hopes to repeat his victory here, largely by attracting Democratic voters, who can cross over in the primary. His campaign released new ads today touting McCain's credentials as someone who can work with Democrats in bipartisan efforts.
McCain launched the day at Kalamazoo Christian High School, where he tried to ease anxiety about the state's shaky economy by promising to restore Michigan's lost jobs through green technologies. He fielded questions about Iraq, immigration, Social Security and healthcare.
"We're not going to leave these people behind," he said of Michigan's unemployed. "I will herald a new day for Michigan."
Asked for an election prediction, McCain told reporters, "We're clearly in the home stretch and we expect it to be a close election, so we'll be working all day and then going to South Carolina and preparing for the election there on Saturday. We feel good but ... we're not taking anything for granted."
Meanwhile, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee defended his decision to deliver a sermon Sunday in South Carolina. In an interview, he said that almost every Democratic candidate speaks at church services on Sundays. "The difference is they talk about politics," he said. "I go and talk about Jesus."
At a rally in Augusta, Mich., today, Huckabee pitched himself as a candidate who understands the working class.
"If you want somebody who believes the status quo is just fine, you have plenty of choices," he said, pitching his plan to abolish income taxes in favor of a 23% national sales tax. "One of the reasons we've lost so many jobs, starting here in Michigan, is because we have a system of taxes that penalizes productivity."
Michigan had a 7.4% unemployment rate in November, compared with a national rate of 4.7%, according to the Labor Department.
The rest of the GOP field was campaigning elsewhere. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has staked his candidacy on a victory in Florida's Jan. 29 primary, is on a tour of the state. Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who needs a victory in South Carolina's Republican primary Jan. 19, is spending the day there.
Democrats, meanwhile, prepared for tomorrow night's debate in Nevada, which holds its caucuses Saturday. Sen. Hillary Clinton is spending the day in New York; Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is in Nevada and former Sen. John Edwards is in South Carolina, where Democrats vote Jan. 26.
Clinton, coming off a weekend in which she tried to draw Obama into a discussion of Martin Luther King Jr.'s role in enacting civil rights legislation, seemed to offer an olive branch today. In a speech before striking security guards in New York, she said that "both Sen. Obama and I know we are where we are today because of leaders like Dr. King."