Exit Polls Suggest Romney Appealed to Michigan Conservatives

Mitt Romney was the clear victor in Michigan’s GOP primary yesterday taking first place over John McCain 39% to 30%, in a win that was vital to his campaign. News networks projected his win shortly after polls closed. Exit poll analysis showed that Romney was an easy choice for conservative Republicans, and it was Republicans that came out to vote.

Sixty-eight percent of voters in Michigan yesterday were Republicans and 41% of those who would label themselves as conservative voted for Romney according to a FOX News exit poll. Huckabee got 23% of voters and McCain came in third with 20%.

Twenty-five percent of voters were independents and similar to the results in New Hampshire — independents liked McCain — going for him 35% over 29% for Romney. In 2000 when McCain won the Michigan GOP primary independents made up 35% of voters while 17% were Democrats. Only 7% of the voters last night were Democrats.

AP reported on an exit poll that showed McCain strengths “included Republican voters who favor legalized abortion, oppose the war in Iraq and place higher priority on deficit reduction than cutting taxes. Romney ran strong among tax-cutters.”

An overwhelming 55 % of voters indicated that the economy was clearly the most important issue for them in this election. As for whom they thought was the best candidate to address this issue, 41% of voters chose Romney and 29% chose McCain. Romney has built a name for himself as a business man, and a master of fixing the financially “broken.” The former Massachusetts governor was an obvious choice for a state in such economic turmoil.

Romney’s message to Michiganders sought to capitalize on that turmoil more than to stick to traditional fiscal conservatism.

On the eve of Michigan’s primary during his last minute pitch Romney stated that “Michigan’s economic worries should be America’s worries.”

“Detroit can only thrive if Washington is an engaged partner, not a disinterested observer. The plan is going to have to include increases in funding for automotive related research as well as new tax benefits including making the Research and Development Tax Credit permanent.”

“I am not open to a bail out, but I am open to a work out. Washington should not be a benefactor, but it can and must be a partner,” said Romney.

The Iraq war ranked second among voter issues, 17% indicated that was their top concern.

In Michigan, where primaries are open and there is no registration by party rules, voters may choose whichever party they like on election day. Thirty-nine percent of last minute deciders went with Romney, while 33% went for McCain and 17% chose Huckabee.

Romney’s campaign advisor Ben Ginsberg said that Romney reached out to conservatives in Michigan through the three branches of the Republican family, economics, family and national defense.

“He is ideally positioned to move forward…we like were he is positioned,” said Ginsberg while pointing out that four times more votes were cast in Michigan than New Hampshire and 10 times more than in Iowa.

After last night Romney has the most wins (Wyoming and Michigan and two second place wins in Iowa and New Hampshire) and the most delegates lined up (42) for the Republican National Convention in September.

McCain’s senior advisor Charlie Black said that Romney merely “maximized the native son theme,” (Romney’s father was a three-term governor in Michigan in the 1960s). Exit polls show that four in 10 Republicans said that Romney’s family ties did influence their vote.

MSNBC reported last night
Republican earmark reform champion Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-OK) will endorse McCain tomorrow at an event in South Carolina according Black. Coburn’s earmark reform partner and popular South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint (R.- S.C.) endorsed Romney earlier in the campaign.

The newly energized Romney campaign will hope that last nights win can surge polls in South Carolina. According to a poll released today from Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby Romney trails behind Huckabee (29%) and McCain (23%) with 13%.