Voters in Michigan braved freezing temperatures and a fresh blanket of snow to vote yesterday in a primary election that has seen the economy emerge as the dominant issue in the still wide-open Republican contest.
While the stakes were high for candidates, turn-out appeared to be only moderate, hardly helped by the Democrats' decision to boycott the primary after the state defied national rules and moved its Iprimary date to January from February.
With polls not closing until 8pm and one hour later in parts of Michigan in the central time zone, the three main Republican rivals, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Mike Huckabee, were facing a long wait last night before learning how they had performed in a state hit by economic sluggishness.
Nationally, the Republican establishment was watching closely too. A win by Mr Romney, whose father, George Romney, was once the Governor of Michigan, would leave the three main candidates with one major victory each: Mr Huckabee in Iowa; and Mr McCain in New Hampshire.
Michigan's Secretary of State, Terri Land, said about 1.5 million of the state's 7.1 million registered voters would make it to the polls. By contrast, turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire was huge, in part because of the electrifying effect of the Democrat face-off between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. "We don't have all the Democratic candidates participating, so that has caused some folks to not want to participate," Ms Land said.
The absence of a real contest between Democrats – among the major candidates, only Mrs Clinton left her name on Michigan ballots – promised to give a boost to Mr McCain. Voters were free to decide at the last minute which party primary they wanted to vote in. Mr McCain was looking to build on the momentum gained in New Hampshire.
Once more, many voters appeared to be dithering until the last minute. "I've still got a thinking to do," said Kathy Radziwaniuk, 53, a team leader at a General Motors parts plant in Ypsilanti. Both she and her husband, recently retired from Chrysler, are normally Democrats but are considering voting for a Republican. Which one, she still didn't know.
All three Republican runners visited the Detroit car show and made promises of federal action to lift Michigan out of the doldrums if elected president.
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