Michigan Primary - Special PJM Coverage

4:55 pm PST -- Debate Prep

As icy Michigan's low-turnout Republican primary draws to a close, with first Mike Huckabee, then John McCain already off to South Carolina for the big, noisy primary there on Saturday, the Democrats were making their final preparation for a debate tonight in Las Vegas that could prove a milestone in the campaign.

The two warring camps, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have a shaky ceasefire in effect now on personal attacks and racial politics, and it is holding today. Bill Clinton, the global statesman suddenly turned campaign lightning rod, is hundreds of miles from his former first lady wife tonight. He's not in Southern Nevada, he's in Northern California, to watch the debate and do a college rally near the state's capital as part of the effort to stave off a possible Obama surge in the biggest prize of next month's Super-Duper Tuesday.

With racial politics and personal attacks apparently off the table tonight, that leaves economic insecurity (which turned out to be the biggest issue by far in Michigan's GOP primary!), national security, and some Western issues, notably around the environment.

In her peace offering statement last night, reported below, Hillary pointedly did not take her criticisms of Obama and claims about herself with regard to Iraq off the table. She will attempt to discredit the notion that Obama was really against the invasion of Iraq -- a prime selling point for Democratic voters -- while she was for it. She'll note that he voted to fund the troops in the field and did not push for a withdrawal timeline until fairly recently. And she will claim that she wasn't voting for war -- when she voted to authorize an invasion -- but for allowing weapons inspectors to finish their work, insisting that the White House told her that was the actual purpose of the legislation.

This, should Obama have any game on at all, will prove to be a tough sell.

John Edwards, running a distant third in all the national polls and in most states -- but perhaps in contention in Nevada -- will push his neo-populist themes and hope that another dust-up erupts between Obama and Clinton.

That's his hope at this point, that the two frontrunners turn off enough voters that some will turn to him.

I still don't know if Dennis Kucinich is in this debate. (See earlier report.)

2:48 pm PST - Exits

The media exit polls are starting to become available. The candidate numbers are kept under a strict lock and key. Which means that if you find out numbers and are not supposed to have them, the proprietors get very interested in how that happens.

What we do know is that the turnout in the Michigan Republican primary is low. It's a more dispirited than energized electorate. Concern about the economy is by far the biggest issue in this state with the highest unemployment rate in the country. Much bigger than Iraq, the Terror War, and national security.And President Bush has barely a more than 50% job approval rating. Among Republicans.

This should, to an extent, favor Mitt Romney. A low turnout model electorate with voters, even Republican voters, eager to believe promises to revive a fading automobile-based economy.

As native Michigander Romney, son of a popular former governor and chief executive of a big car company, said yesterday, having pledged big programs to save all the jobs: "Michigan is in my DNA. Cars are in my blood."

12:11 pm PST - Where It May Be Going

The word from sources in the campaigns is that Michigan Republican primary turnout looks low, at least so far. The snow has subsided to flurries and less in much of the state, but there is a high wind chill factor.

Let's say, hypothetically, since it hasn't happened and may well not, that Mitt Romney's last ditch effort for a win in his home state pays off narrowly over John McCain. What happens next?

Romney, as I reported earlier, has resumed TV advertising in the next major Republican contest -- Saturday's South Carolina primary -- after stopping his ads there a week ago.

But McCain has developed a signficant lead in South Carolina in the new Rasmussen poll.

The numbers there are: McCain 28%, Mike Huckabee 19%, Romney 17%, and Fred Thompson 16%. McCain's support has stabilized while Huckabee, the former leader who had been running just behind McCain, has gone down and Thompson has gone up.

12:00 pm PST - The Wacky Kucinich Factor

The always entertaining Dennis Kucinich, whose minuscule support for the Democratic presidential nomination never stops him from running, has found a way to place himself in the middle of stories in Nevada and Michigan today.

First in Nevada, where he was first invited -- and then disinvited -- to take part in tonight's Las Vegas debate. He sued to get back on the stage, and a Clark County judge agreed with him. But parent corporation NBC is refusing him a role in the debate, and is appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court. Presumably they will get a ruling soon.

Then in Michigan. The real action is on the Republican side, but as we wait to see who is actually braving the wind chill factor and turning out to vote, Kucinich may find a brief moment of notoriety in the Democratic primary. Which doesn't count, since all the candidates agreed not to campaign there and the Democratic National Committee stripped the state's delegates in retaliation for violating the party's sequence of contests.

All the candidates except Hillary Clinton -- playing her own edgy campaign -- took their names off the ballot. (Down the road, expect her to claim she won the Michigan primary.) Well, it turns out that Kucinich didn't actually take his name off the ballot, either. Apparently the result of a campaign foul-up.

Now correspondent Dave Musgrove reports that the Kucinich campaign e-mailed its supporters to do get out the vote calls in Michigan. And Kucinich himself showed up unexpectedly for a rally yesterday at the University of Michigan.

Watch Kucinich claim a second place finish in a big state primary that didn't actually take place. He may even finagle his way back into the big debate against the big candidates tonight.

Now THIS is what Andy Warhol meantt about 15 minutes of fame!

10:58 am PST - Bill Clinton Steps Back

After spending yesterday campaigning across southern Nevada and calling in to black radio shows, the latter to try to tamp down the racial controversy that threatened to overtake the Democratic presidential race, former President Bill Clinton has stepped back from the limelight.

When his wife, Barack Obama, John Edwards -- and, maybe, depending on the Nevada Supreme Court and NBC brass, Dennis Kucinich -- appear for a key debate tonight in Las Vegas, Bill Clinton will be hundreds of miles to the north, in another state entirely.

He'll be watching the debate in Sacramento, the capital of California, with Clinton supporters hoping to avert an Obama surge in the Golden State. California is the biggest prize of the possibly pivotal February 5th states.

After the debate watch, he'll presumably call his wife down in Vegas, then head over to the University of California at Davis for a late rally with his former deputy interior secretary, John Garamendi, now California's lieutenant governor.

Clinton, who enjoyed wide popularity in his "global statesman" persona, quickly made himself a hot button figure with his furious late campaigning for his wife against Obama. He was the principal attack dog against the Illinois senator in the final day of the New Hampshire campaign last week. The "first black president," as Toni Morrison dubbed him, then became embroiled in the Clintons' controversy with black voters.

It's a good time for him to step back.

9:52 am PST - Huckabee To South Carolina, Romney Ads

Mike Huckabee once hoped to score an upset in today's Michigan primary, but that hope has faded as the race swiftly evolved into a two-man affair between Michigan native Mitt Romney and New Hampshire winner John McCain.

So Huckabee has already left the state, and is heading to South Carolina. There he hopes for a stronger showing in Saturday's primary.

Huckabee led in South Carolina earlier. The most recent polls show him running behind McCain.

As for Romney, he pulled his TV advertising in South Carolina after he lost in New Hampshire a week ago, throwing everything into Michigan. But today he goes back on the air in South Carolina.

8:55 am - Another Michigan Tracking Poll -- Without Many Independents

PST

Here's another final tracking poll from the Michigan Republican primary, from ">American Research Group. John McCain 31%, Mitt Romney 30%, and Mike Huckabee 19%.

Interestingly enough, the sample doesn't have that many independents or Democrats in it. Even though there is no Michigan Democratic primary to speak of, since the Democratic National Committee removed all delegates in retaliation for the state moving its primary up and the candidates agreed not to campaign there.

The sample is 80% Republican and 20% independent. And no Democrats.

McCain's big problem today in Michigan would appear to be the weather, which has snow in much of the Wolverine State.

6:16 am PST - Game Day: Michigan And Vegas

Today is another big day in presidential politics, with the Michigan Republican primary and the Las Vegas Democratic debate, which I'll be covering throughout the day with correspondents and contacts in both states. The polls show a tight race in Michigan between John McCain and Michigan native Mitt Romney, with the final tracking poll from last night a dead heat and snow expected throughout much of the state.

There is equal uncertainty surrounding tonight's Democratic debate in Las Vegas, cablecast tonight on MSNBC at 6 PM Pacific time. Dennis Kucinich's suit for inclusion - a Clark County judge ruled him in but NBC refuses - adds an element of legal uncertainty. The battling frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, may or may not dial back their hostilities, which threaten Democratic comity going forward, roiling party constituencies. And what role will John Edwards play? He can't win the nomination, but he may be able to decide who does.

I'll be anchoring PJ Media network's Michigan Republican primary and Las Vegas Democratic debate coverage throughout the day, weaving together reports and information from correspondents and contacts inside and outside Michigan and Nevada. The anchor coverage will be linked to and, to a certain degree, mirrored here on NWN. This will be a continuation of the Game Day: Iowa and Game Day: New Hampshire packages.

In Michigan, the Zogby tracking poll for Reuters through last night shows a dead heat. Here are the numbers. John McCain 27%, Mitt Romney 26%, and Mike Huckabee 15%.

The weather forecast is for snow throughout much of Michigan. This could help Romney, whose father was one of Michigan's most popular governors and who pledges, somewhat incongruously, to preserve all the state's jobs in a fast-changing world. He has a heavily funded appeal to hard-core Republicans, while it remains to be seen how many independents and even Democrats turn out in less than ideal weather to back McCain. On the other hand, there is no Democratic primary for them to vote in.

In the hard and now closely fought Democratic race, there were signs yesterday that both Clinton - whose campaign has been the aggressor in ratcheting up the negativity - and Obama may dial it back. Speaking at a town hall meeting in Reno, Obama noted that the two have much in common.

For her part, Hillary issued a somewhat conciliatory statement late yesterday. Her campaign was embroiled with controversy yesterday after one of her surrogates, sharing the same stage as the candidate on Sunday, leveled harsh innunendos at Obama for the teenage drug use he discussed in his best-selling autobiography.

"Over this past week," Clinton said, "there has been a lot of discussion and back and forth - much of which I know does not reflect what is in our hearts. And at this moment, I believe we must seek common ground. Our party and our nation is bigger than this. Our party has been on the front line of every civil rights movement, women's rights movement, workers' rights movement, and other movements for justice in America.

"We differ on a lot of things. And it is critical to have the right kind of discussion on where we stand. But when it comes to civil rights and our commitment to diversity, when it comes to our heroes - President John F. Kennedy and Dr. King - Senator Obama and I are on the same side. And in that spirit, let's come together, because I want more than anything else to ensure that our family stays together on the front lines of the struggle to expand rights for all Americans."

Of course, her statement did not address her campaign's efforts to make Obama's teenage drug use an issue in the presidential race - carried out by former co-chairman Billy Shaheen in public statements last month in New Hampshire, chief strategist Mark Penn on the Hardball show, and surrogate campaigner Bob Johnson (seen in the video below) - and she offered no apology for the various characterizations of Obama's and her views on Iraq. But she clearly recognized that things could spiral out of control, and that a candidate with her already sky high unfavorables could scarcely expect to emerge unscathed.

The Clintons are going hard against Obama for his status as the only major candidate to have opposed the invasion of Iraq, which he did with a famous speech while running for the U.S. Senate. They are trying to make him out as a phony opponent of the war. It shouldn't be hard for him tonight to counter that effort.

Hillary is also trying to position her Senate vote to authorize the invasion as a vote for peace, a complicated rationale about her believing what she says were the assurances of the Bush Administration that the actual purpose of the legislation authorizing the invasion was to allow weapons inspectors to finish their work. One would have to ignore a lot of political history to have believed that rationale, if it was offered to her.

More intriguing in tonight's debate will be the role of John Edwards, a very effective candidate who at this point can only play the role of a spoiler, helping Clinton against the insurgent Obama. Which would be an ironic role for him, since his neo-populist campaign is pitched against their sort of insiderdom.