Michigan for the Republicans is a critical test for Mitt Romney. After two "silvers" in Iowa and New Hampshire (and a mini-gold in Wyoming which got little attention or credit) Romney badly needs a win in his original home state. With a win, Romney can become the third winning Republican going into the Nevada and South Carolina events this weekend.
But John McCain also needs a Michigan win. Coming back from the dead to win New Hampshire was a huge achievement for McCain, but he needs to prove he is for real outside of his best state from 2000. That year he also won Michigan, thanks in large part to Democratic cross-over votes. This year Democrats are again free to cross over for McCain, thanks both to open primary rules and the fubar Michigan Democratic primary stripped of all meaning by breaking party rules to move ahead in the voting. With no meaningful Democratic vote, those Dems who supported McCain eight years ago are again free to do so this time. Whether or not that happens is just one more nightmare problem for pollsters: how many Democrats will in fact vote in the Republican primary?
And Mike Huckabee could certainly use a strong finish to show that Iowa wasn't his first and last hurrah.
The numbers look not so good for Huckabee. There is the barest hint of a post Iowa bump for him. Rather his gains in November and December seem to be all the rise he's gotten in Michigan. Since Iowa, Huckabee's poll support in fact seems to be falling, as captured by the sensitive red estimator (but not the slow-to-change blue line.) Whether blue at 17% or red at 14%, Huckabee looks likely to be a distant third in Michigan.
McCain and Romney on the other hand are neck and neck and the polling variation is so large there is no way to declare either a leader. Romney has the slightest of leads in the sensitive estimator at 26.1% to McCain's 25.6%, but that difference is meaningless given the spread in polling. McCain has clearly picked up considerable support since Iowa and New Hampshire, but so has Romney. McCain appears to be gaining more rapidly but with so little time since New Hampshire it is impossible to get a reliable estimate of the rate of gain in the last 5 days.
The bottom right panel of the chart shows clearly how uncertain the top two spots in Michigan are. The blue Romney dots mix in with the red McCain dots, overlapping so much that there is clearly no reason to think one is ahead of the other. Even some Huckabee results are within the range of Romney and McCain support.
Most of Huckabee's higher polls are older, and his recent downward trend means that more of his polls are above his current trend estimate. For Romney and McCain, the polls are evenly scattered above and below trend.
Republicans have plenty of reason to turn out Tuesday. They can help make or break the candidacies of McCain or Romney. Those pesky independents and Democrats remain the huge unknown. See Mark Blumenthal's analysis of the recent polling and how many Democrats are included in the various samples for a good look at how squishy that number is.
Cross posted at Political Arithmetik.