Michigan: Republican frontrunner John McCain took his plain-talk on US economic troubles to the hard-hit blue collar state of Michigan Saturday, as the specter of recession took centre stage in the presidential race.
Buoyed by a national poll placing him ahead, McCain vied with his Republican rivals campaigning in Michigan, home to a troubled car industry and 7.4% unemployment, where the party holds its primary nominating contest.
At a rally in this Detroit suburb, McCain attacked claims by his rivals that they can bring back the jobs lost when US automakers shuttered plants in the face of a steady loss of market share to Asian competitors.
“I would be ashamed and embarrassed to say that some of those jobs are coming back,” he said. “I’m proud to say that I can bring jobs, new jobs, good jobs, to the state of Michigan.”
His flagging rival candidate Mitt Romney meanwhile waged a high-stakes fight for the survival of his campaign after defeats in the two opening nominating contests, vowing to fight for jobs in the state where he was born and his father used to be governor.
“It is personal for two reasons,” Romney said. “One because of my roots in this great state and two because I recognize that Michigan is a bit of the canary in the mine shaft. That as Michigan goes, so goes the nation.”
“The impact is likely to be bigger for Romney,” said Vincent Hutchings, a professor at the University of Michigan. “If he doesn’t succeed in Michigan it’s going to start to look increasingly difficult.”
Riding on his surprise win on 3January, New Hampshire primary, McCain has taken a national lead with 34% support among registered Republicans, according to a CNN poll. Commenting on Romney’s negative ad campaign, McCain said: “It didn’t work when he attacked Mike Huckabee in Iowa and it didn’t work when he attacked me in New Hampshire and I don’t think it’ll work here in Michigan, but that’s a choice he’s made.”
Also campaigning in Michigan was Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist minister ranking second nationally among Republicans.White House hopefuls turned their focus to the economy amid growing concern not only in Michigan, but the rest of the country, hit by a snowballing housing crisis and rising gasoline prices.
More than a third of registered voters say the economy is the most important issue in voting for a president, according to the same poll. The Iraq war came second, cited by a quarter of voters.
A management consultant before running an investment firm, Romney hopes his business experience will win over voters in Michigan.
But his rivals for the Republican party’s presidential nomination are not ceding any ground. Former Arkansas governor Huckabee, who hastily added campaign stops in Michigan after a recent poll showed he could carry the state, wooed business leaders in Detroit on Friday with promises to level the playing field with foreign competitors and to replace income taxes with a national sales tax.
Republican former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has shunned the midwest where he is not a popular candidate, concentrating his efforts in Florida which holds its primary on 29January.
Major Democratic candidates are boycotting Michigan this year because the state Democratic Party scheduled its primary ahead of 5February in defiance of national party rules.
But the Democrats are also honing in on economic themes as they prepare for the caucuses in Nevada, home to a growing Hispanic population and influential trade unions.
Senator Hillary Clinton, who leads the Democratic race according to a recent poll, was in Las Vegas, Nevada,ahead of the party’s caucus contest in that state on 19January.
“The common purpose of America is progress. Not just for the wealthy and the well-connected, but for everyone. Every single person deserves to have a shot at the American dream,” Clinton, who would be the first woman US president, said in Las Vegas. “That is why I’m running.”
Her closest rival, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, has called for expanding tax credits for homeowners, easing the tax burden on middle income and retired Americans while bolstering research and development and improving the country’s Internet access.
Obama received another important endorsement, from Democratic Senator Ben Nelson, one of the most influential voices in the Senate.