DETROIT - Mitt Romney capitalized on his Michigan ties and attracted the most conservative voters yesterday while John McCain found far fewer Republican primary votes among the Democrats and independents who were key to his victory here eight years ago, an exit poll showed.
Romney also neutralized Mike Huckabee's strength among religious voters, running even with him among white evangelicals and beating him among all but the most frequent churchgoers, according to the survey for the Associated Press and television networks.
McCain ran close to Romney among nonevangelicals, while Huckabee lagged.
As Romney shifted campaign resources out of South Carolina and into Michigan last week, the former Massachusetts governor had emphasized his family ties to this state. His father, George, had headed American Motors Corp., and was a three-term governor in the 1960s.
Apparently it worked. More than 4 in 10 Republican primary voters said Romney's ties to Michigan were very or somewhat important to their vote, and 58 percent of them voted for him.
Michigan's GOP electorate was comparable ideologically - 56 percent conservative, 33 percent moderate, and 11 percent liberal - to the turnout last week in New Hampshire's leadoff Republican primary, which McCain won.
Romney won Michigan by improving his margin among conservatives and trimming McCain's advantage among everyone else, also managing to run even with McCain among liberals.
Meanwhile, Michigan's Democratic primary was barely contested, as Barack Obama and John Edwards withdrew from the ballot because of questions about whether the state's delegates would be seated at the Democratic convention.
Only a campaign to vote "uncommitted" stood in Hillary Clinton's way. Clinton won particularly strong support among women and older voters.
The Democratic primary was the first this nomination season with a sizable number of blacks, 23 percent of voters, according to the exit poll.
Nearly 7 in 10 of them voted for "uncommitted" in an apparent show of support for Obama.
Asked for whom they would have voted if Obama and Edwards had joined Clinton and others on the ballot, 72 percent who voted "uncommitted" picked Obama.
Although hardly contested, the Democratic primary apparently helped prevent crossover votes from aiding McCain in the Republican contest.
Michigan has open primaries and no registration by party, so voters choose on primary day which partisan contest to vote in.
Michigan's weak economy, dragged down by the struggling auto industry, weighed on the minds of GOP voters. The state's jobless rate of 7.4 percent is the nation's highest.
Given four choices, half of Michigan Republican primary voters picked the economy as the most important issue facing the nation, compared with just 26 percent in the Iowa GOP caucuses and 31 percent in the New Hampshire Republican primary.
Economy voters narrowly favored Romney in Michigan. Among the other choices, 1 in five picked Iraq, and McCain held an advantage among them.
The results are from exit polls yesterday in 40 precincts across Michigan for the AP and television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
The Republican primary survey interviewed 1,362 voters and had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points; the Democratic poll interviewed 997 voters with a sampling error of 5 percentage points.