WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican John McCain holds a slim lead on rival Mitt Romney in Michigan one day before the state’s hotly contested presidential nominating contest, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Monday.
McCain, an Arizona senator who won the New Hampshire primary last week, narrowly leads Romney 27 percent to 24 percent among likely Republican voters in Michigan, within the poll’s margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who was raised in Michigan, is hunting for a breakthrough win in the state on Tuesday to keep his White House hopes alive after second-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“It’s very close, and it has been close every day that we have polled,” said pollster John Zogby. The rolling survey of 915 likely Republican primary voters was taken Friday through Sunday.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won Iowa’s kick-off contest, was third at 15 percent in Michigan. He was followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 8 percent, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani at 6 percent and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson at 5 percent.
The Republican primary in Michigan is the latest battleground in the state-by-state fight to choose candidates for November’s election to succeed President George W. Bush.
Democrats also will hold a primary in Michigan, but a dispute between the state and national party led top Democratic candidates Barack Obama and John Edwards to keep their names off the ballot. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York is the only top contender listed.
MCCAIN LEADS AMONG DEMOCRATS, INDEPENDENTS
The poll found McCain, who won Michigan during his failed presidential bid in 2000, benefits in the state from support by Democrats and independents, who can vote in the Republican primary.
McCain leads Romney among Democrats 35 percent to 17 percent and among independents 33 percent to 18 percent. Romney, whose father was a former Michigan governor and auto executive, leads among Republicans 30 percent to 21 percent.
“Democrats and independents are giving McCain whatever edge he has,” Zogby said.
McCain also leads among voters who describe themselves as moderates, but Huckabee holds a slight lead over Romney among voters who say they are “very” conservative.
Nearly half of the voters in Michigan’s Republican primary, 47 percent, said the economy was the top issue in the election, and McCain and Romney essentially split their vote.
An additional 18 percent said Iraq was the top issue. McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam and a strong supporter of Bush’s strategy to increase troop levels in Iraq, led among those voters.
Republican primary voters in Michigan favored experience over change by 52 percent to 38 percent. Among those who preferred experience, McCain led handily. Romney narrowly led McCain, Huckabee and Paul among those voters seeking change.
Zogby said nearly one-fifth of the voters who support McCain said they made up their minds in the last few days -- since his win in New Hampshire last Tuesday.
“He’s getting a little bump from New Hampshire,” Zogby said.
About 9 percent of the poll’s respondents said they had not decided yet, and nearly half of McCain and Romney supporters said they could still change their mind.
The final day of the rolling tracking poll will be published on Tuesday, when Michigan votes. In a rolling poll, the most recent day’s results are added while the oldest day’s results are dropped in order to track changing momentum.
(Editing by Eric Beech)