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Now Replaying: Michigan Independents For McCain?


John McCain has his fans in Michigan. (AP).

By Michael D. Shear
Could John McCain lose big among Michigan Republicans tomorrow and still emerge a winner?

McCain aides believe the Arizona senator will benefit tomorrow from a potential surge of independent and Democratic voters who have a history of turning out for him at the polls.

In 2000, McCain lost Michigan by a huge margin among Republicans, who favored then-candidate George Bush by more than a 2 to 1 margin. By contrast, McCain won big among independent voters, winning two-thirds of them, and even bigger among Democrats who chose to vote in the Republican primary.

At the end of the day in 2000, McCain won Michigan by about eight points, breathing life back into his campaign temporarily.

If that dynamic repeats itself, the aides believe, McCain should do well in Michigan this year. The Bush vote of 2000 is likely to be split between Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, leaving McCain an easy path to victory among Democrats and independents.

There are reasons to think that might happen: there is no Democratic contest in Michigan this year, since the national party punished the state for moving its primary to an earlier date. That leaves Democrats free to participate on the GOP side.

And McCain's win in New Hampshire proves that he still has appeal among independent voters who admire his frequent jabs at his own party and his willingness to offer "straight talk" on the campaign trail.

But there are other reasons to think that his 2000 performance in Michigan might have been a fluke. That year, he was just coming off a trouncing by Bush in South Carolina, after which McCain called religious broadcasters Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson the "agents of intolerance." That fired up Democrats and independents for McCain, who
has made no such inflammatory statement this year.

In fact, his campaign problems last summer, in which fundraising dried up and he was forced to fire staff, were in part due to a sense among those groups that McCain had sold out to the establishment in Washington in his attempt to win the election.

If those concerns keep independents and Democrats from voting for him, it could be a very long night for him.

By Washington Post editors  |  January 14, 2008; 12:57 PM ET
 
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