WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Mitt Romney inched into a virtual dead heat with rival John McCain in Michigan hours before voting began in the state’s presidential nominating contest, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Tuesday.
McCain, the Arizona senator, held a statistically insignificant 1-point edge over Romney, 27 percent to 26 percent, well within the margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, gained 2 points overnight and McCain held steady in the tracking poll. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was in third place at 15 percent.
Pollster John Zogby said Romney’s movement in the final day was slight and polling over four days revealed a stable and exceedingly close race between the two Republican rivals.
“If there is momentum in this race, it’s hard for me to see it,” Zogby said. The latest rolling survey of 824 likely Republican primary voters was taken Sunday and Monday.
“It’s just as tight as it ever was,” Zogby said. “It’s a razor-thin margin all around.”
The Republican primary in Michigan is the latest fight in the state-by-state process to choose candidates for November’s election to succeed President George W. Bush.
Romney, who was raised in Michigan, needs a breakthrough win in the state to keep his White House hopes alive after second-place finishes in earlier contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
A McCain win following last week’s New Hampshire victory would thrust him into the Republican front-runner’s role heading into the next contests in South Carolina and Florida.
Among other Republicans, Texas Rep. Ron Paul was at 8 percent, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson at 6 percent and a sliding former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani at 3 percent, down 3 points.
McCain, Romney and Huckabee all campaigned hard on Tuesday across Michigan, where the slumping auto industry and the 7.4 percent unemployment rate in November, the highest of any U.S. state, put economic issues at the top of the agenda.
The poll found McCain, who won Michigan during his failed presidential bid in 2000, still draws substantial support from Democrats and independents, who can vote in the open Republican primary.
McCain leads Romney among Democrats 30 percent to 15 percent and among independents 33 percent to 24 percent. Romney, whose father was a former Michigan governor and auto executive, leads among Republicans 31 percent to 22 percent.
“This could come down to whether Democrats and independents turn out for McCain, and how engaged Republicans are for Romney,” Zogby said.
Democrats also will hold a primary in Michigan, but a dispute over the date of the vote led the national party to strip the state of its delegates to this summer’s presidential nominating convention.
As a result, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards kept their names off the ballot and Hillary Clinton, a New York senator, is the only top contender listed. None of the top Democrats have campaigned in the state since the dispute arose.
About 8 percent of the poll’s respondents said they had not decided yet. Nearly half of McCain supporters, 47 percent, and more than half of Romney supporters, 55 percent, said they could still change their mind.
This is the final day of the rolling tracking poll in Michigan. 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.