A Look Ahead At Michigan

There's a new Michigan poll out from the Rossman Group, a Democratic firm I'm not familiar with. The Realclearpolitics.com average of two January and two December polls is Mitt Romney, 20 percent; John McCain, 19; and Mike Huckabee, 19; with 10 for Rudy Giuliani and 4 for Fred Thompson. This looks like a tight three-way race.

When one looks back at the 2000 primary there, John McCain beat George W. Bush 49 to 41 percent. But that victory margin was inflated because 20 percent of the primary voters were self-identified Democrats, who were in effect voting against Republican Gov. John Engler, an active backer of Bush who seemed to be angling for an important job in the Bush administration. Engler had been beating the Democrats up and down the ballot since he was first elected in 1990, and the presidential primary (with no Democratic contest that day) was Democrats' chance to take revenge. Some 28 percent of McCain's popular-vote margin came in the two black-majority districts in Detroit (each of which included a few suburbs), in which Republicans are very scarce indeed. McCain ran strongest in northern Michigan. He lost the heavily Dutch areas around Grand Rapids and Holland in central Michigan, and he won the Detroit suburbs only by narrow pluralities. He fared poorly in exurban Detroit, losing fast-growing Livingston County, industrial Monroe County, the northern portions of Oakland and Macomb counties, and Lapeer County east of Flint.

Michigan has winner-take-all by congressional district. McCain carried 14 of Michigan's then 16 congressional districts in 2000 (it has 15 now) but only six of them by a percentage margin greater than his statewide percentage margin--the two Detroit districts (where he's not likely to replicate his 2000 margins), the two districts that included the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, a northern Lower Peninsula district, and the district including the Upper Peninsula.

There's speculation that Huckabee will do well in and around Grand Rapids, where there are many Christian conservatives. But the dominant tone is set by the various Dutch Reformed churches, and it is rather different from that of the more familiar evangelical Christianity. Huckabee carried the caucuses in Sioux County, Iowa, which is also heavily Dutch and heavily Republican, but his percentage there was less than the combined percentages of Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer in the 2000 caucuses.

By Michael Barone