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Republican Campaigns Heat Up in Michigan

SCOTT SIMON, host:

The first two rounds of the election season are over, and this much is known. Time will tell. And time now marches on as the electoral battle spreads across the country.

Next up: Michigan on Tuesday. The Democrats aren't contesting this one. The National Party punished the state for moving up the date of the primary and says that its delegates won't be seated. But it's certainly a different story on the Republican side.

We're joined by Bill Ballenger, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, who's on the campaign trail in Flint this morning.

Thanks for being with us, Mr. Ballenger.

Mr. BILL BALLENGER (Publisher, Inside Michigan Politics): My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And it's been a few days now since attention has been paid to Michigan, where Republicans have been making appearances. What are they going for? Who are they appealing to?

Mr. BALLENGER: Well, they're appealing on the Republican side to some kind of a evangelical Christian right base as they were, to a certain extent, obviously in Iowa are so-called Christian right here is probably half or a third the size of Iowa. So thereby, no means the entire constituency that Republican candidates want to get votes from there is kind of a more moderate electorate here in Michigan than there is in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and we're obviously way more spread out geographically. This is the biggest state in land mass east of the Mississippi.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. And according to polls, what's on the minds of Republican voters there in Michigan?

Mr. BALLENGER: The economy, the economy, the economy. It's dismal here in Michigan, and it has been for half a dozen years. We've never really emerged from the 2000, 2001 recession.

SIMON: Of course, this is being seen as a particular test for Mitt Romney. He grew up in the state. His father, George Romney, was the governor. His mother ran for senator. He was, after all, governor of Massachusetts. Is this really is home state?

Mr. BALLENGER: It's hard to say that it is. Obviously, his father was governor almost 40 years ago. A lot of people joke that the people in Michigan who remember his father probably all in Arizona now, if they're still alive. He's got the Romney name, which is certainly a better name than any other candidate running right now, with the possible exception of John McCain, who won the state in a big upset over George W. Bush just eight years ago. So he has said that, you know, he plan to make it the third leg on his troika of wins at the beginning of the process - Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan. And of course, he's lost Iowa and New Hampshire, so he just about has to win Michigan or, I think, he may be cooked.

SIMON: You, of course, mentioned Senator McCain's victory there in the 2000 primary. Is the political landscape still favorable to him?

Mr. BALLENGER: I think it is. In fact, polls taken in the last few days in the wake of New Hampshire show him with leads anywhere from seven to 11 points. In Michigan, you can cross over and vote in the Republican primary if you're an independent or a Democrat. We do not register to vote by party here in Michigan, so anybody can go into the Republican Party if it wants to next Tuesday and vote.

And John McCain got the lion share by far back in 2000 against George W. Bush of those voters, and the expectation is he will get those voters again this time compared with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, who's also making a big play here in Michigan.

SIMON: So in theory, Democrats who want to play the game can walk into the poll and vote Republican.

Mr. BALLENGER: Absolutely. In fact, because the Democratic contest is virtually meaningless, with only really Hillary Clinton on the ballot as a major candidate, there's a lot of speculation that if you're a Democrat and you want to participate, the only game in town is a Republican primary.

SIMON: Bill Ballenger, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, thanks very much.

Mr. BALLENGER: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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