Republican rivals turn to the economy
PONTIAC, Michigan: Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney sped to Michigan on Wednesday and turned their focus to the slowing economy as they headed toward the next showdown in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Romney dropped his television advertising in two other important battlegrounds, South Carolina and Florida, to focus his spending on Michigan in hopes of averting another major defeat. McCain, whose campaign until now has operated by necessity as a wide open but low-cost insurgency, adopted a carefully choreographed series of rallies as it scrambled to gather the money and the organization it needs to take advantage of his victory in New Hampshire on Tuesday.
On the Democratic side, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign aides gathered to plot how best to take advantage of her victory in New Hampshire as she and Senator Barack Obama prepared for a protracted nationwide battle for the nomination.
After two fourth-place finishes, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico is dropping out of the Democratic contest, according to people knowledgeable about his decision. John Edwards remains in the race, but his distant third-place finish in New Hampshire moved the Democrats toward a two-person race between Clinton and Obama.
After appearing on the morning television news programs, Clinton stayed off the campaign trail as she and her aides debated how to allocate her time and money through Feb. 5, when 22 states will vote. Obama made a foray to the New York area, appearing at a rally in New Jersey, which like New York and Connecticut will hold its primary on Feb. 5, before coming to Manhattan for a fund-raiser.
At midnight on Tuesday, Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, convened a conference call of senior staff members across the country, refocusing them on the contest ahead in an effort to move beyond the defeat in New Hampshire. "We're certainly going to throw all of our energy into Nevada, South Carolina and Feb. 5 states," he said in an interview on Wednesday.
The immediate focus of both the Clinton and Obama campaigns was the Nevada caucuses on Jan. 19, which was shaping up as the head-to-head test of the strength of both these candidates. Obama and Clinton dispatched their field staffs there from Iowa last week, and Clinton plans to visit Nevada on Thursday. Obama on Wednesday won the endorsement of the culinary workers' union in Nevada, but Democrats there said that Clinton had a strong organization and that the contest was extremely close.
In both parties the candidates were recalibrating their strategies after the results in New Hampshire, which revived Clinton's fortunes after her defeat by Obama in Iowa and gave McCain his first victory and a chance to deal Romney a potentially debilitating blow in Michigan. McCain arrived in Michigan ahead of Romney, appearing at two rallies before heading to South Carolina in the afternoon in preparation for the debate there on Thursday.
Both candidates emphasized job loss and the broader anxieties that have taken root as the economy has slowed.
"Some of the jobs that have left the state of Michigan are not coming back," McCain warned. "They are not, and I am sorry to tell you that. But I believe we can develop a plan to take care of these workers who have lost their jobs."
Romney told an audience of more than 200 at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids that Michigan's economic woes were personal to him and said the state's prospects were tied up with the nation's.
He talked at length about his roots in the state, where he was born and reared, drawing applause when he recalled his father, George, who was governor of Michigan. He went on to recall campaigning as a teenager for his father, whose slogan was about getting Michigan "on the move again."
"We're going to make sure this state gets on the move again," Romney said. "I care about Michigan. For me, it's personal. It's personal for me because it's where I was born and raised."
Earlier in the day, after hearing from a voter who recalled his father, Romney choked up momentarily, according to a pool reporter who was present. "He was a great man, and I miss him dearly," Romney said.
The results in New Hampshire left Romney's campaign in dire straits after losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, despite pouring millions into the contests and blanketing the states with advertisements for months.
Romney held a national fund-raising call day on Wednesday in Boston, an event his aides said had been planned for some time. His campaign said it raised $1.5 million that it can use during the primaries and an additional $3.5 million it could use if Romney wins the nomination and runs in the general election.
But the decision to focus its advertisements on Michigan suggested that the Romney campaign is making tough decisions about where to spend its money, despite Romney's ability to reach into his own pockets.
"This race is about Michigan right now," said Kevin Madden, a Romney spokesman.
Adding yet another wrinkle is the potential impact of Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, in the race in Michigan, which holds its primary on Tuesday. Emphasizing economic themes, Huckabee began running an advertisement here on Wednesday obliquely taking on Romney, saying voters wanted a president who reminds them "of the guy they work with, not the guy that laid them off" and highlighting the nation's job losses and rising fuel prices.
Huckabee's advisers said several factors were working in their favor in Michigan. They said the size of the state put a premium on news media coverage, which Huckabee has displayed a knack for attracting. There is a substantial evangelical population in western Michigan, giving him an audience for his conservative views on social issues. And his message of economic populism could resonate among blue-collar workers.
Still, Huckabee is likely to limit the time and money he spends in Michigan because he does not want to detract from South Carolina, where he has been setting up his first real campaign organization and where he is banking on doing well among the state's many evangelical voters.
McCain's strategy in Michigan rests in part on reaching out to centrist Republicans and independents. Because the Democratic candidates are not actively campaigning in Michigan — the party has put sanctions on the state for holding its primary earlier than the party wanted — independent voters could move toward the Republican contest, potentially helping McCain. He won Michigan in his losing battle against George W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000.
Among the Democrats, aides to both Clinton and Obama said Clinton's victory on Tuesday stopped any movement by donors and party leaders to coalesce around a front-runner.
Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of Clinton's campaign, said it had collected $700,000 overnight, in addition to $20 million it already had on hand. McAuliffe also said he had no doubt that Clinton would be able to keep pace with Obama in the expensive month ahead, a contention that was not disputed by Obama's aides.
The result on Tuesday left both sides studying the map ahead. Both campaigns have abandoned their previous assumptions that the nomination would effectively be settled on Feb. 5 — and instead settled in for what could be a long fight until one or the other wins the most delegates.
"For the first time since 1988, this is a delegate race," said Howard Wolfson, the communications director for Clinton's campaign. "This is about more than any one state."
Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, said: "I don't think anyone can tell you with any degree of certainty how long this will go. This is going to be a furious battle between two candidates."
Although the campaigns appear evenly matched in Nevada, the next state where Democrats will compete actively, Obama appears to have a stronger organization and base of support in South Carolina, which follows.
As of now, Clinton's advisers said they were looking to California, New Jersey, New York, Arkansas and Georgia as their first targets among the states that come later, but they made clear that their target list could expand. They said Clinton would make in effort to win delegates in certain congressional districts in Obama's home state, Illinois, which is how delegates are allocated there. Obama is making a similar effort in New York.
While Obama's strategists said it was too early to pinpoint their top state targets, California, New Jersey, Georgia and Missouri lead the list, suggesting some shared targets with Clinton. The mayor of Atlanta, Shirley Franklin, announced her endorsement of Obama on Wednesday and the campaign is wooing Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who aides say expects to announce her support soon.
For his first campaign appearance in the next stage of the race, Obama chose a rally on Wednesday in New Jersey, one of the places he is eyeing in the trove of nearly two-dozen states holding primaries or caucuses in the next four weeks. Clinton's campaign had surrogates stage rallies on her behalf in about a dozen states that vote on Feb. 5.
Even as Obama spent nearly all of his time in Iowa in the last two months, his campaign was building an operation in states that hold contests on Feb. 5. An aggressive absentee ballot program is under way in California, anchored by the man who ran Bill Clinton's 1992 New Hampshire race. (One-third of Democrats vote absentee.)