YPSILANTI, Mich. - Mitt Romney and John McCain argued about their concern for the auto industry, while Mike Huckabee spotlighted his opposition to abortion, as the Republican presidential contenders campaigned yesterday before Michigan's potentially make-or-break primary.
Romney, seeking a rebound in Tuesday's primary after losing to Huckabee in the Iowa caucuses and McCain in the New Hampshire primary, made an impromptu stop at a
He pledged to make restoring the domestic auto industry - once the linchpin of Michigan's economy - a top priority if elected president.
"In some respects, Michigan is like the canary in the mine shaft: What Michigan is experiencing, the whole nation will experience unless we fix what's happening in Michigan and learn lessons here we can apply across the nation," he said in Traverse City amid a flyaround of the state.
Romney's criticism of Washington was a none-too-subtle shot at McCain, who has said that some of Michigan's lost jobs are gone forever. The Arizona senator defended his comment during a raucous rally before 400 supporters in Warren.
"I had to give some straight talk," McCain said. "Jobs are leaving the state of Michigan. They have left and will not come back, but we're going to create jobs, we're going to create a new economy. This is the smartest technological place in America. We have the smartest people here. We can do it. We can create jobs here."
Later, aboard his campaign bus, McCain continued his criticism of Romney.
"Governor Romney says he supports the industry yet when he was running for the governor of another state he wanted to raise the tax on SUVs," McCain said.
Romney, sitting later in the home of an unemployed woman in Marshall, responded by criticizing McCain for supporting an increase in fuel-efficiency standards, something Michigan automakers have resisted.
"I was the governor of Massachusetts, and Massachusetts is not the state that is propelling the Michigan economy," he said. "Senator McCain was a US senator, who has responsibility for the well-being of the entire country. . . . Senator McCain has watched as Michigan has suffered."
Aides distributed campaign literature from Romney's 2002 race for governor in Massachusetts, in which Romney proposed a 10-year sales tax moratorium on hybrid vehicles, as well as reworking the vehicle excise tax to encourage the purchase of fuel-efficient cars.
McCain also mentioned a Detroit News headline yesterday: "Experts Back Up McCain's Jobs Claim."
Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom responded by criticizing McCain for supporting an increase in fuel-efficiency standards, something Michigan automakers have resisted. "There's a big difference between proposing tax breaks to encourage consumers to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, and imposing costly mandates on automakers that make it harder for our domestic manufacturers to compete, as John McCain has done," Fehrnstrom said.
Huckabee's alternate focus on social issues highlighted his effort to reinvigorate the coalition of religious voters that propelled him to victory in Iowa.
The former Southern Baptist minister emphasized his opposition to abortion as he urged about 100 pastors in Grand Rapids to support him and use their address books and e-mail lists to mobilize others.
"I don't presume that you will support me because of a common faith," Huckabee told them. "I know that I have to earn that. But I also recognize this is a unique opportunity. For a long time, those of us who are people of faith have been asked to support a candidate who would talk to us. But rarely has there been one who comes from us."
While 34 delegates were up for grabs in Michigan on Tuesday, the candidate activity highlighted the state's importance in the battle for momentum.