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(CNN) -- Having settled for second place in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Republican Mitt Romney is hoping Michigan primary voters give him his first major victory as they head to the polls Tuesday.
Mitt Romney signs an autograph for a young supporter after a rally Tuesday in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
According to recent polls of the state's Republican primary voters, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has a narrow lead over Arizona Sen. John McCain.
While Romney did win the much-overlooked Wyoming caucuses on January 5, some political analysts have said Michigan is a must-win for Romney, whose father was governor of the state in the 1960s.
"This is a big day. ... This is the day that is going to change, I believe, the politics in the nation as we get ready to select our nominee," Romney told supporters during a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Tuesday. "I think Michigan is going to vote for Romney again. I am planning on it."
While Romney said the state was "not do or die," the Michigan native said he "would like to see Michigan in the win column."
"We are going all the way through February. But I can tell you, it is very important to me," Romney said Monday.
On the eve of the state's primary, the GOP presidential front-runners pledged to help turn around Michigan's struggling economy in a last-minute effort to win over voters.
On Monday, Romney, McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee toured the Detroit Auto Show, highlighting the economic problems of the struggling auto industry.
Michigan has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country -- 7.4 percent, compared with 5 percent nationally -- and the top-tier Republicans have vowed to make the revival of Michigan's economy a top priority.
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"I want to bring Michigan back," Romney said Monday. "I'm not willing to sit back and say, 'Too bad for Michigan. Too bad for the car industry. Too bad for the people who've lost their jobs; they're gone forever.'
"That's not the kind of pessimism I think that'll make Michigan strong again. I will not rest, if I'm president of the United States, until Michigan is brought back."
While speaking to the Detroit Economic Club on later on Monday, Romney told business leaders, "What Michigan is feeling will be felt by the entire nation unless we win the economic battle here."
"Michigan is a bit like the canary in the mineshaft. What's hurting Michigan," he continued, "will imperil the entire nation's economy."
Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Romney also blasted a new energy bill that raised the fuel efficiency standards for cars to 35 miles per gallon, saying it was an "anvil" that will weigh down the domestic auto industry.
"All of the vehicles that you're making now are outmoded. You're going to have to build new engines, new transmissions, new axles. All of these things have to be changed at the cost of tens of billions of dollars. Good luck. Now, it's a benefit to the entire nation paid for by one industry that's already in trouble," Romney said.
During the first nine days of January, the Romney campaign spent more than $2 million in advertisements on television and radio in Michigan, compared with McCain's $359,000 and Huckabee's $39,000.
Romney's campaign also announced it was pulling paid media in other early-voting states and focusing its remaining resources in Michigan.
McCain is hoping to re-create his 2000 victory in Michigan when he beat then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush by convincing independents and even Democrats to vote for him in the GOP primary.
Michigan's decision to move its primary to January 15 infuriated Democratic Party officials who were trying to slow the "front loading" of the primary process.
As punishment, party officials voted to strip Michigan of its delegates. In a show of solidarity with the party, the top-tier Democratic presidential candidates, except for Sen. Hillary Clinton, asked that their names be removed from the ballot.
Since the Democratic primary has been turned into an almost meaningless contest, McCain could benefit, as there is no party registration in Michigan, and registered voters can cast their ballots in any primary. That means Democrats and Independents may play a far greater role in Tuesday's GOP primary than they usually would.
McCain told voters Monday he thought focusing on "green technology" could revive Michigan's economy, saying that switching to alternative fuel sources is also an issue of national security.
"We are sending $400 billion of your dollars a year to oil-producing countries and look at those countries. They're not our friends," McCain said in Kalamazoo. "Some of that money's going to end up in the hands of terrorist organizations."
The senator from Arizona also said it's unrealistic to think all jobs can be restored, and he instead focuses on the retraining of workers.
"I would be ashamed to tell the people of Michigan or South Carolina that all of these jobs are coming back. I won the New Hampshire primary because I told people the truth: what they wanted to hear, what they didn't want to hear. These people know that a lot of these jobs aren't coming back," McCain said over the weekend.
Romney and McCain had some fierce exchanges before the New Hampshire primary, and the two camps continue to spar as they battle for votes in Michigan and South Carolina -- which holds its primary on January 19.
While in Kalamazoo, Michigan, McCain defended a mailing sent out in South Carolina that attacks Romney's record, saying it was not "negative campaigning" but a defensive measure.
"Now, we won't go tit-for-tat, but we will respond, and we will make clear that this kind of negative campaigning didn't work for him in Iowa when he attacked Gov. Huckabee, didn't work in New Hampshire when his campaign attacked me, and I don't think it's going to work in Michigan where he's attacking me, and it won't work in South Carolina," McCain said.
Huckabee hadn't campaigned in Michigan until last week, but just as in the Iowa caucuses, a grass-roots network of conservative Christian activists and "fair tax" proponents could keep him in contention for the top spot.
Huckabee said Monday he would help Michigan's unemployment rate by enforcing "fair" trade agreements with China and other nations that export into the United States and by cutting regulations on business.
"I think we can bring a lot of these jobs back," Huckabee said, "but part of it starts that our free-trade agreements have to be fair trade agreements. They're not. The Chinese dump products on us that have lead in them. Some of the products they have aren't safe. We aren't enforcing our trade agreements in a manner in which we should so there's an unfair competition."
The former Baptist preacher again is emphasizing a populist economic message, saying it's time to "reset" the Republican Party.
"We've lost our soul," Huckabee said. "It's time that we regain it, remind ourselves what made us a strong party, strong national defense, conservative fiscal policies. But it's also a commitment to those issues of the family and the working class people of this country who are the bread and butter every day of this nation's economy."
Recent polls show Romney with a narrow lead over McCain in Michigan.
Twenty-eight percent of people likely to vote in Tuesday's GOP primary said they supported Romney, compared with 26 percent for McCain, according to an average of four polls.
Huckabee is third with 17 percent, followed by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee with 5 percent each, according to the polls' average.
The latest results are calculated by averaging four polls conducted after the New Hampshire primary: American Research Group, McClatchy/MSNBC/Mason-Dixon, Detroit Free Press/Local 4, and Detroit News/WXYZ-Action News.The polls had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 to 5 percentage points If you enjoyed this post Subscribe to our feed