DETROIT Republican White House hopefuls John McCain and Mitt Romney are in a very close race in Michigan, three days before state voters decide their pick for the party's presidential nomination, according to two new polls released on Saturday.
The Detroit News/WXYZ Action News statewide survey showed McCain, a senator from Arizona who won the New Hampshire primary earlier this week, at 27 percent and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, at 26 percent. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has become popular among religious conservatives, polled 19 percent.
But a second poll, conducted by the Detroit Free Press-Local 4, found Romney ahead with 27 percent versus 22 percent for McCain. Huckabee was again third with 16 percent support.
The economically depressed state is seen as a must-win for Romney because he lost Iowa to Huckabee and New Hampshire to McCain.
Romney initially had the edge in Michigan because he was born in the state and his father served as its governor. But McCain won the state's contest in 2000.
The Detroit News/WXYZ Action News poll of 604 likely Republican voters was taken between Wednesday and Saturday and has a margin of error of four percentage points, making the race a statistical tie. Some 45 percent said they were undecided or could change their minds.
The Detroit Free Press-Local 4 survey also found a fluid contest with 38 percent of those with a favorite saying they may switch while another 22 percent had not picked a candidate. It too had a four-percentage point margin of error.
Some 40 percent of those surveyed said the economy was their top concern and these voters preferred the former venture capitalist Romney over McCain, 42 percent to 25 percent. McCain had about the same margin among the 24 percent who named the Iraq war as their top issue.
In the Detroit News/WXYZ Action News poll of Democrats, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York leads with 56 percent. But the other top contenders dropped out of the state's contest after Michigan violated party rules by scheduling its primary early.
Around one-third of the 600 likely Democratic voters surveyed said they would vote "uncommitted," which would send delegates to the Democratic nominating convention not backing a candidate.
The nation's eighth-largest state with 10 million residents, Michigan has been bleeding jobs and experiencing a population exodus and could be pivotal in the November election as it could swing to either party's nominee.
(Writing by Jeremy Peloksy; editing by Alan Elsner)
(For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)