Revitalised but broke, McCain soldiers on for battle of Michigan

Looking energetic and refreshed after just four hours' sleep, John McCain, the winner of the New Hampshire primary took his upstart political campaign to the Great Lakes state of Michigan in a borrowed plane.

Almost out of cash, Mr McCain, at 71, would be the oldest person to win the presidency should he secure the nomination and go on to be elected next November. His is a David versus Goliath struggle, in which the biggest guns of the Republican establishment have been shaken up by a campaign so broke it almost folded its tent and gave up a few months ago.

Independent-minded and proud of the US military, New Hampshire voted to keep one of the biggest enthusiasts for the war in Iraq in business. On his journey west yesterday morning, the Vietnam war hero and Arizona senator was plotting the next stage of his insurgency with his small team of unpaid but battle-hardened volunteers.

New Hampshire and Michigan are just way marks in what has developed into an extremely crowded and tight race, in which the Republican base has yet to coalesce around a popular front-runner. There remain four credible candidates for the nomination and all that can be counted on is that only one will remain standing after 5 February, when 22 states hold their primaries on one day – so-called Tsunami Tuesday.

In Michigan, Mr McCain's biggest opponent is Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is still a formidable opponent, despite two consecutive setbacks, or "silver medals" as the organiser of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics described his second-place rankings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mr Romney commands a huge war chest, powerful organisation and has the added advantage of being a famous native son whose father was a three-time governor of Michigan. A defeat there would severely dent the son's chances of the nomination.

Mr Romney now pins his hopes on Nevada's large Mormon population to throw him a lifeline when the state holds its caucus on 19 January. Because the population is widely dispersed, his deep pockets will be able to finance an advertising blitz that will be hard for his rivals to compete against.

As Mr Romney demonstrated in New Hampshire, he is a made-for-TV candidate, with looks from central casting and a sharp debater's mind. He is expected to cross the finishing line first in Nevada, further confounding predictions of who the presidential nominee will be in what has become the tightest Republican race in decades.

Republicans in South Carolina vote on the same day as Nevada holds its caucus, and there, Mr Romney's Mormon faith is expected to be a major hurdle.

The guitar-playing preacher-turned presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who won the first primary in Iowa, is leading in South Carolina where his Baptist faith is strong among black and white voters and the Mormon Church is distrusted.

As a former governor of the southern state of Arkansas, Mr Huckabee can also play the anti-Yankee card against Mr Romney a former governor of Massachusetts. He won 40 per cent of the black vote when he was elected governor of Arkansas.

Florida, the fourth-largest state in population terms, which votes on 29 January, may be the wild card for the Republicans. The former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has been roundly beaten in each race so far, has staked his future on winning the Sunshine State with its large population of retirees from the North-east. If he loses there to either Mr Huckabee or Mr Romney his campaign could be over.

Then they go on to Florida, on 29 January, before heading to the biggest challenge of all on Tsunami Tuesday.

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