Romney fights to stay in race as Michigan votes

Michigan moved centre stage Tuesday in the state-for-state battle within parties to find a presidential candidate, with Republicans grabbing the limelight over favourite-son Mitt Romney, the son of a one-time Michigan governor.

But voter turnout was slow, in part a result of lackluster interest in the race after the state of Michigan defied a timeline for primary elections set by the national organizations of both parties - the Democrats and Republicans.

While the Democratic Party has said it will not accept any Michigan delegates to the national convention, the Republicans have said they will cut the entitled number in half.

Despite lagging attendance at the polls by Michigan residents, as reported by local media, there was strong national interest in the race between Romney and Senator John McCain.

McCain outperformed Romney, a wealthy businessman and former Massachusetts governor, in Iowa and New Hampshire. Polls showed Romney and McCain in a close race for Michigan, with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee lying third.

Leading Democratic contenders have shunned Michigan altogether after the state moved its primary forward in the schedule of state- by-state nominating contests in a bid to exert more influence over the choice of nominee.

But Senator Hillary Clinton's name is on the ballot - a presence that has angered the campaign of her chief rival, Barack Obama, who along with most other Democratic contenders withdrew his name from the list.

Obama and fellow Democratic contender John Edwards have been urging their supporters to vote "uncommitted" as a way of showing up Clinton in the outcome. State leaders urged supporters of those candidates not on the ballot to check "uncommitted" in hopes that Michigan could have its delegates restored before the convention.

Clinton has not campaigned in Michigan.

Romney grew up in Michigan, where his father George Romney led the now-defunct American Motors Corp and served as governor in the late 1960s. He hopes to translate his home field advantage into a win that would further shake up the unsettled Republican field.

After Michigan, attention moves to Nevada and South Carolina on Saturday.

Democrats and Republicans are to hold caucuses in Nevada, where the Hispanic vote will be closely watched.

Republicans only will be vying for primary votes in South Carolina on Saturday. Democrats in South Carolina will get their chance on January 26.

Jason Pelty, a Democratic voter, told the Detroit Free Press he was upset about not having a full choice among his party's contenders.

"As a Democrat, I am torn between the first woman president or the first black president," the newspaper's online edition quoted him as saying. "The fact that there isn't even a fair chance for Obama upsets me. I am a dedicated Democrat."

McCain, a vocal supporter of the Iraq war, came back to win last week's contest in New Hampshire and national polls now show the 71- year-old leading the field after his campaign had been declared dead by analysts over the summer. He won the Michigan primary in 2000, beating George W Bush, who went on to win the nomination and the presidency.

Nationwide polls also show Clinton ahead of Obama for the Democrat candidacy, but with a significantly reduced lead. ( Dpa )

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