Michigan votes, as candidates start thinking ahead to SC

Polls are now open in Michigan, and they will close at 9pm ET. The catch: The Las Vegas Democratic Debate will start at the same time, forcing political observers to keep one eye on Nevada and one eye on the GOP results. For now, however, the focus is still on the Republican race with the big question mark of who is turning out to vote, and what proportion of the electorate is independent and registered Democrat.

And, as always, we start off the day with our final tracking polls (remember, why polls were completely off in New Hampshire, they had started to show a Clinton come-back by the last 24 hours). And thus here is Zogby's survey:

  • John McCain gets 27% to Mitt Romney's 26%, with Huckabee at 15%, Ron Paul at 8%, Thompson at 5% and Giuliani at 3%. Yesterday, the numbers were 27-24, so a small rise for Romney. Zogby adds that Romney is (oh so) slightly ahead on Monday alone.
The second poll comes to us from Mitchell Interactive, a Michigan based polling group, and it has some major movement for Romney:

  • Today, Romney gets 36% to McCain's 29% with Huckabee at 12%. Yesterday, Romney was only ahead 29% to 27% and the first tracking poll of the group taken after New Hampshire had McCain ahead 23% to 16%. The two previous polls obviously have a much higher number of undecideds and this poll is basically registering undecideds breaking for a candidate -- and Mitt Romney is getting the lion's share.
And third, ARG also is showing Romney surging upwards -- though he only rises to a tie:

  • McCain gets 31% to Romney's 30% with Huckabee also rising at 19%. Over the week-end, ARG's poll had McCain at 34% and Romney at 27%. But ARG is predicting 80% registered GOP turnout, which is much higher than other polls.
What is next for the Romney campaign? Once the front-runner in every state that has already voted, Romney cannot afford getting second-place for the third time. That would make him more consistent than other candidates, but it would also mean a second straight high-profile defeat to John McCain, and in the state that is the most naturally fitted to Romney's message since it is one of the most focused on economic issues (as opposed to national security, where McCain has an edge).

If McCain wins, frankly, the story will not even be about Romney's loss given how close McCain will get to insuring he gets the nomination if he scores a victory here -- independently of whatever Romney does. But if Romney wins, he clearly is ready to wage an all-out-war in the coming weeks and is in position to get strong showings in South Carolina, Nevada and Florida -- further demonstrating that he is running a national consistent campaign.

News a week ago was that Romney had abandoned South Carolina as he had pulled out of the state, but reports today are that he is getting ready to start running ads again in both South Carolina and in Florida. It is a bit surprising to see him play in the South again given so close to voting day, but he would probably get some kind of exposure boost if he won today and he often posts very good numbers in that state.

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