- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2000

DETROIT Sen. John McCain defeated Gov. George W. Bush in Michigan last night on a surge of Democratic and independent voters who outnumbered Republicans in their own open primary.

Mr. McCain also won his home-state primary in Arizona, as expected, reviving his campaign as the seesaw race enters a stretch rich in delegates.

With 76 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. McCain led Mr. Bush in Michigan by 50 percent to 44 percent. Former ambassador Alan Keyes trailed with 5 percent.

The victory could be a costly one, if it enrages Republicans who may regard the Michigan result as a hijacking of their own primary. From here on, winning with Democratic and independent votes will be much more difficult.

Exit polling showed that Mr. McCain, who needed a win in Michigan to keep his candidacy alive, would have been swamped in a Republican primary restricted to Republicans.

Republicans accounted for only 49 percent of the record turnout of about 1.2 million voters, compared with fewer than 500,000 in the 1996 Republican primary in Michigan. Independent voters, many of whom usually vote Democratic, comprised 33 percent and Democrats were 18 percent.

The victory by Mr. McCain in Michigan particularly embarrassed Gov. John Engler, who had staked his national reputation on delivering his state for Mr. Bush. Mr. Engler last night blamed himself for not confronting Mr. McCain in campaign ads for making overt appeals to Democrats in the open primary.

“My strategy may not have been very good,” Mr. Engler said on CNN. “We’ve never seen a candidate like John McCain, who went out to rent Democrats for a day. John McCain isn’t party-building, he’s party-borrowing.”

Mr. Bush won two-thirds of Michigan Republicans who voted; Mr. McCain received only one-quarter of the voters of his own party. Eighty-two percent of the Democrats who went to the polls voted for Mr. McCain.

“We are creating a new majority, my friends a McCain majority,” Mr. McCain told cheering supporters at a rally in Arizona. “We are Al Gore’s worst nightmare.”

Mr. McCain made an appeal aimed at perhaps his greatest weakness that he is attracting so few Republican voters.

“Don’t fear this campaign, my fellow Republicans,” Mr. McCain said. “Join it. I am a proud Reagan conservative. I love the Republican Party. It is my home.”

The victor seemed to relish in making a pointed jab at Mr. Bush, with whom he has clashed bitterly over which candidate is a true reformer.

“Michigan sent a powerful message across America a message that our party wants real reform from the real reformer,” he said.

Mr. McCain’s home state of Arizona gave him an easy 60 percent to 36 percent win over Mr. Bush, with 59 percent of precincts reporting. Mr. Keyes received 4 percent.

Mr. Bush, who left Michigan before voting ended, had scheduled a stop in Kansas City, Mo., to give a victory speech but was unable to claim the prize.

“I want to thank all the Republicans who voted for me,” a subdued Mr. Bush said, suggesting that Democrats and independents had handed Mr. McCain his victory and offering a hint of his strategy from here on.

“I’m not doing well amongst liberal Democrats, but then I don’t expect to.”

After Mr. Bush’s crucial win Saturday in South Carolina, he had 61 delegates to the Republican National Convention and Mr. McCain had 14. A candidate needs 1,034 to clinch the presidential nomination.

Not only did Mr. McCain win the popular vote in Michigan, he was poised to capture most if not all of the state’s delegates, which are apportioned among the 16 congressional districts.

Michigan has 58 delegates, awarded on a proportional basis. The winner in each of the state’s 16 congressional districts gets three delegates. The candidate who gets the most votes statewide is awarded 10 at-large delegates.

A state Republican Party spokesman said at 10 p.m. that Mr. McCain was leading in 13 of those districts, meaning he would capture at least 49 of the 58 delegates.

Arizona’s 30 delegates went to Mr. McCain under its winner-take-all system.

Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s top strategist, gave grudging credit to Mr. McCain for pulling in so many Democrats.

“You have to tip your hat to him,” Mr. Rove said. “He won them by 87 to 10 [percent].” He expressed skepticism that most of those Democrats would stay with the Republican nominee in November. Indeed, Democrats were exhorted to vote for Mr. McCain with a reminder that they could then return to their party.

He said Mr. Bush improved among independent voters in Michigan with 31 percent of that group, compared with 19 percent of the independent vote in New Hampshire.

Exit polls revealed that 30 percent of the voters yesterday were from union households. Of that group, 60 percent supported Mr. McCain. The same exit polls had 78 percent of blacks who voted yesterday picking Mr. McCain.

Voting was so heavy that extra ballots were ordered in many Michigan cities to accommodate demand. The Michigan Republican Party reported especially heavy absentee balloting in Detroit, where black ministers and a black Democratic state representative have urged largely Democratic congregations to vote for Mr. McCain to defy Gov. Engler.

Many Detroit residents accuse Mr. Engler of weakening social services in the city; they are angry that he initiated a state takeover of the Detroit public schools.

Exit polling showed that 15 percent of voters in Michigan said Mr. Engler “strongly influenced their vote.” Of that group, Mr. McCain won by a margin of more than 3 to 1.

The campaign turned especially ugly in the waning hours of the Michigan primary, with surrogates for each side accusing the opponents of religious bigotry in recorded phone calls to voters.

Mr. Bush, campaigning yesterday in Royal Oak, Mich., blamed the McCain campaign for a message to voters that Mr. Bush is anti-Catholic because he spoke at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., three weeks ago.

“He’s calling me an anti-Catholic bigot, and I don’t appreciate it,” Mr. Bush told CNN. “My campaign manager here, John Engler, is a Catholic. My brother’s a Catholic. My sister-in-law is a Catholic. And there’s no excuse for that kind of politics. It’s a ridiculous charge. The only reason it is still alive is because Senator McCain is making those calls into this state.”

Mr. Bush flew last night to California, which holds its primary March 7. Mr. Bush will also campaign Friday, Monday and Tuesday in Virginia, where he is favored to win that day.

Mr. McCain has not campaigned in Virginia but listed it in his victory speech as among the states he will be moving onto. He travels today to Washington state, which also holds its primary next Tuesday.

The Bush campaign has operations in all 13 states that vote March 7.

“We’ve got real battles and we know it,” Mr. Rove said.

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