McCain grabs the Big Mo -- now it's a fight
And the firewall came tumbling down. George W. Bush's early endorsement by John Engler, the Michigan governor who's hugely popular among the state's Republicans, was hailed as a firewall against any insurgent anti-Bush campaign. But, as the Texas governor has learned the hard way, Republican support isn't everything in an open primary. Sandwiched between New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary and March 7's Titanic Tuesday, when a dozen states vote, Engler's nod was thought to give Bush a lock on the lion's share of the state's 58 delegates, and swing the momentum his way as the candidates headed into the big day. Yet CNN exit polls had McCain winning Michigan by turning out an unprecedented number of voters. And, as it turns out, Engler's endorsement may have hurt Bush by helping mobilize Democrats who oppose the Michigan governor. If the polls hold up, Michigan was the first Republican primary ever in which registered Republicans cast a minority of the votes. "Shame on me for not being smart enough to figure that out," Engler told CNN of the impact Democrats and independents would have on the election.
TIME correspondent Jay Carney, who was with Bush's campaign entourage just before it departed for California at about 5 p.m., said the group was shocked that McCain mobilized so many voters. "Bush's people were very confident in the last couple of days that they'd get a bounce from his win last week in South Carolina and would take Michigan decisively," said Carney. "They've already worked out this bogus line that Democrats are voting tactically -- they're loading the primaries for McCain because they've got a better chance of beating him in November." (In fact, polls show McCain beating probable Democrat candidate Al Gore by 24 percent as opposed to Bush's 5 percent.)
Momentum in this race has been as hard to follow as a bouncing rubber ball. After McCain's decisive win in New Hampshire, he was able to score defections of major Bush supporters in California and New York, the two largest states, delegate wise, to vote March 7. Even more impressive was his successful campaign to trump New York's convoluted nomination system and get himself on the ballot of all 31 of the state's voting districts. But then came the Bush landslide in South Carolina Saturday, which gave him nearly five times as many delegates as McCain to that point and left just three days for the Arizona Senator to reclaim some mo before Michigan. Now with his wins on Tuesday in Michigan and his home state of Arizona, McCain's taken the two largest states that have voted so far. And, for the first time this year it appears certain McCain will be in the race through March and, with the Bush firewall tumbled, McCain has to be seen as a legitimate threat to be on the ballot come November.
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