Romney wins Michigan, GOP nomination picture gets murkier

Michigan native and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney held off Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) amid low turnout to win Michigan’s Republican primary Tuesday night.

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Romney, whose father was a popular governor in the state, kept his hopes for the nomination alive, but his win cast an already wide-open race into disarray.

McCain’s campaign had hoped that a win in Michigan on the heels of his victory last week in New Hampshire would cement his status as the GOP frontrunner and give him additional momentum heading into the South Carolina primary.

Romney’s victory means that the three major contests there have been three different winners. With former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee winning the Iowa caucuses, McCain winning in New Hampshire and Romney’s win Tuesday, it would be near impossible to name a frontrunner heading into the next round of contests.

Early theories out of Michigan suggest that heavy snowfall in the state depressed turnout, causing independents and Democrats to stay home. Those two blocs were largely credited with helping McCain win the state in 2000 over then-Gov. George W. Bush.

The candidate who is most clearly enjoying the absence of a favorite is former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani has almost entirely skipped the early states, choosing instead to rely on a strategy centered around winning Florida, which votes on Jan. 29, and winning a significant number of the delegate-rich Feb. 5 states.

Romney’s campaign clearly saw Tuesday night’s contest as make or break, despite assertions to the contrary. The former governor’s campaign pulled its ads in South Carolina and Florida after the New Hampshire primary to fully focus on Michigan.

The continued parity also ensures that South Carolina’s contest Saturday will be a heated affair.

Huckabee and former Sen. Fred Thompson both view the state and its large number of evangelical voters as crucial.

McCain has also put a lot of effort into the state that derailed his hopes in 2000. The senator’s campaign made clear Tuesday while the polls were still open in Michigan that it would not lay down while negative campaigns targeted the senator.

Campaign surrogates held a conference call late Tuesday afternoon to decry direct-mail pieces distributed by a shadowy independent group that attacked McCain’s Vietnam record.