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GOP Race Heats Up in Michigan


For more on politics, we go now to NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Alex.

COHEN: So let's talk a little bit first about the polls. I think everyone might be a little bit gun-shy after New Hampshire. But polls are, you know, relatively important indications of what's going on, and some interesting stuff in the polls with Senator John McCain. What's happening there?

ELVING: Yes, John McCain has suddenly leaped to the fore as the Republican frontrunner nationwide. In several polls that came out over the weekend, primarily from some of the big polling organizations between media organizations - that's the CBS/New York Times poll, the ABC/Washington Post poll, everybody seems to have installed John McCain as the new favorite, somewhere just below 30 percent or just above 30 percent in the nationwide test of Republican-leaning voters.

But I hasten to add that while that may be clear on the national side, it's way too close to call in Michigan, which votes tomorrow.

COHEN: And what's at stake with this Michigan vote for both Senator McCain and Mitt Romney?

ELVING: It could be a great deal. It's just one event, and there are other events coming up this weekend, two of them on the Republican side. But Mitt Romney has lost in the first two contests of the year, both of which he had targeted all through last year.

Now we are looking at one of his home states. It's his native state. It's where his father was a three-term governor. It's where the name Romney is best remembered. So if he can't win there either, I'm afraid a lot of people are going to just throw up their hands and say Mitt Romney is not going to finish first in any of these big states.

So Mitt Romney's going to be in huge trouble if he can't win in Michigan. On the other hand, it's a big, big question mark for John McCain too. If he does not pull this out when his national polls are running the way they are, people are going to wonder, can the guy win anyplace but New Hampshire?

COHEN: Let's talk a little bit about what's been going in the Democratic side. Things are getting a little bit ugly between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Can you recap what's going on there and how it might affect what's coming up on the primaries and caucuses this week?

ELVING: Yes. And while everyone has said throughout this campaign that no ones want to talk about gender - Hillary Clinton - no one wants to talk about race - Barack Obama - you have increasingly heard both campaigns bringing those issues to bare.

Now, they of course don't like to do it overtly, but they either use surrogates or they use code or they use some kind of indirection to bring those highly divisive issues to bear where it does them good. Now, about a week ago the Clinton campaign determined, they thought, that they were going to lose in New Hampshire.

Most everyone thought they were going to lose, including the Clinton campaign itself. They decided it was time to get much tougher with Barack Obama. And they started saying things about him being just a talker, not a doer, the kind of person who might be inspirational but couldn't really make things happen. And that segued into talking about, for example, the difficulty of getting from the civil rights movement that was led by Martin Luther King to the actual passage of civil rights legislation and how that, as Hillary put it, took a president. What Hillary said about a week ago was that while Martin Luther King was a wonderful, inspirational leader and speaker, that it took a president, Lyndon Johnson, to actually pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to actually pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And some people found that a rather patronizing formulation about the respective roles of Dr. King and President Johnson. And then, of course, there have been a number of rather incendiary remarks made by Bill Clinton, the candidate's husband.

And he's been all over the place, including today on the radio on Tom Joyner's much-listened-to show, in which he said that the only racist remark that's been made in this campaign came from the Obama campaign and that that was referring to Hillary as the senator from Punjab, not a quotation many of us were familiar with. So Bill is out there playing an agent provocateur role. And that has heated this thing up considerably.

COHEN: NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving, thank you so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Alex. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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