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Michigan voters cast ballots in tight GOP presidential primary race

    SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — John McCain sought to keep his momentum going strong. Mitt Romney looked to keep his candidacy afloat. And Mike Huckabee simply wanted to keep defying expectations.
    No matter the winner, the Republican presidential primary in Michigan on Tuesday promised to add another wrinkle to a nomination fight that has defied a clear favorite.
    Snow fell across much of the state, half a foot before noon in some places, threatening to dampen turnout that was already expected to be light. In the state of his birth, Romney voiced edgy confidence in his chances and so did McCain, who won Michigan in the 2000 primary race.
    Outside a Baptist church in Warren, Mike Huckabee was happy to see the freezing temperatures and snowfall, reasoning that his evangelical base would come out to vote when others less committed might not. ‘‘That can only be good for us because I think most of our voters are very focused. We hope so, anyway.’’
    Opinion polls indicated a tight race between McCain and Romney.
    ‘‘I think it’s going to be very close,’’ McCain said before a rally at Northwestern Michigan College. The Arizona senator said his primary goal — beyond winning — was to attract Republican votes, but ‘‘having independent and Democratic votes shows potential for the general election.’’
    Michigan voters can vote in either primary, regardless of their party registration.
    McCain also toured a historic house converted to a funeral home, an odd twist for a man who believes in portents. But he wore a lucky-charm sweater — a green one he had on the day he won the New Hampshire primary.
    In Grand Rapids, Romney told about 100 supporters gathered in the warehouse of an office furniture company: ‘‘I think Michigan is going to vote for a Romney again.’’
    Romney again sought to differentiate himself from McCain and Huckabee by highlighting the private-sector experience Huckabee lacks and accusing McCain of achieving few results despite nearly three decades in Washington.
    ‘‘People have been talking about things that Washington has been promising for years but not delivered,’’ Romney told the crowd. ‘‘And so, I will go to Washington to stop the bickering, the sniping, the partisanship, the score-settling. I will go to Washington to actually get the job done for the people of America.’’
    Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses, McCain prevailed in New Hampshire and Romney was second to both, while claiming victory in scarcely contested Wyoming. Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator, is camping out in South Carolina looking for his first win. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, is doing the same in Florida.
    Of the three competing head on in Michigan, Romney needed a victory the most to right a campaign weakened by searing losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. He was the only one planning to watch the voting returns in Michigan; McCain and Huckabee were off to South Carolina, which votes Saturday.
    Hillary Rodham Clinton was the only top Democratic contender on the ballot.
    Romney’s Michigan roots figured prominently in his campaign here. He was born and raised in the state and his late father, George, was head of American Motors and a three-term governor in the 1960s. Romney announced his presidential candidacy in Michigan a year ago and has campaigned in it far more than his rivals and spent considerably more money on advertising in the state.
    McCain had a built-in advantage of his own. He won the state’s primary eight years ago on the strength of independent and Democratic-crossover voters, and still had a network of hard-core backers. This year, McCain didn’t have to compete full-bore for non-Republican voters because the Democratic race in Michigan was of little or no consequence.
    Six months after his campaign nearly collapsed, he now leads national polls.
    Huckabee, a one-time Southern Baptist minister, hoped to stage a surprise finish with the support from Christian evangelicals who live on the more conservative, far western part of the state. With his populist pitch, Huckabee also wanted to do well in Reagan Republican country outside of Detroit. He came from behind to win the Iowa caucuses and sought another surprise finish.
    The economy dominated the weeklong Michigan campaign. The state has been reeling from the U.S. auto industry’s downturn and has the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 7.4 percent.
    Michigan doesn’t typically hold its primary until February but state party officials scheduled it earlier to try to give the state more say in picking a president. The Republican National Committee objected and cut the number of Michigan delegates to the national convention by half as punishment.
    ————
    Liz Sidoti reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Libby Quaid in Warren, Mich., and David Eggert in Traverse City, Mich., contributed to this report.

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