By Karin Caifa in Washington, D.C.
Iowa, New Hampshire... Michigan?
No, you don't usually hear Michigan mentioned among the chorus of traditional early primary states. But state officials wanted to change that, and took it upon themselves to move the date of their contests earlier this year, hoping to give the nation's eighth-most populous state a greater say in the nominating process, and hoping to get some more attention from the candidates and their campaigns.
Not so fast, said the national parties. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada were given the parties' blessing to hold the nation's first contests. So for breaking the rules, the Republican National Committee sliced Michigan's delegate count in half, to 30. The Democratic National Committee went even farther and stripped the state of all of its 156 delegates. That means that these delegates won't be seated at this year's convention, and won't count towards a candidate's nomination. Florida faces the same penalty for moving their primary to January 29, ahead of the February 5 "Super Tuesday" contests.
So what's up for grabs in today's primary? For the Democrats, not a whole lot. All of the candidates pledged not to campaign in the state, and top Democrats Barack Obama and John Edwards removed themselves from the ballot. Only Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel remain. But that doesn't necessarily make it a slam dunk for Clinton. Obama and Edwards supporters have been urged to go with an "uncommitted" option, so that Clinton doesn't win by default. It's also an "open primary," which means any voter could vote in either party's primary.
All of the Republican candidates remained on the ballot, but only three actively campaigned in the run-up to voting there today. Mitt Romney, whose father served as governor of the state after heading the old American Motors Corporation, was once considered a shoo-in for Michigan victory, but John McCain is giving the "favorite son" a run for his money. The senator from Arizona won the state in 2000, and flew to Michigan immediately after his New Hampshire win last week to capitalize on the momentum. Also in the mix is Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee.
The Republicans who did campaign in Michigan talked a lot about the state's struggling economy. The state, sunk by the woes of the American auto industry and hit hard by home foreclosures and the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 7.4 percent.
The winning candidate may not even celebrate in the state tonight. Only Romney plans to hold a rally there. McCain and Huckabee end the day in the next crucial GOP primary state, South Carolina. And Clinton, along with the other Democratic candidates, participates in a debate in Las Vegas.