COMMENTS: Dateline Detroit

Michigan was in the spotlight thanks to a coinciding pair of scheduled news events. The Story of the Day was the final day of campaigning before Tuesday's Republican Presidential primary in the state, which NBC picked for its lead. Simultaneously the Detroit International Automobile Show opened, inspiring each network to offer an automotive feature. ABC made an extended effort, with a round-the-clock profile of Ford Motors' F-series pick-up truck assembly plant in Dearborn. The feature was part two of a January series The Real 24 for this month's expanded Monday newshole (24 min v CBS 19, NBC 19) courtesy of Pfizer, its limited commercial sponsor. Neither ABC nor CBS led with Michigan. CBS chose pharmaceuticals and ABC chose a laboratory experiment that transplanted live cells to revive a dead rat's heart.

The contraction of the Detroit automobile industry has turned the Michigan economy into a mess. NBC's Ron Allen pointed out that "one reason Michigan moved its primary to January was to focus the nation's attention" on its so-called "one state recession." ABC's John Berman (embargoed link) commented that when he followed the Republican candidates there from New Hampshire "it was almost like moving to a different country." So far this decade Michigan has lost almost 300,000 manufacturing jobs; its unemployment rate is 7.4%; and it has the nation's third worst rate of home foreclosures.

So Chip Reid's insight into the Republican race on CBS was acute. While Mitt Romney, the "successful businessman" touted programs to revive the auto industry, his rival John McCain was "true to his against the grain style." Not only did McCain insist that many of the state's jobs will never be restored, he did not even focus on the economy as the key to the primary. "He insists the transcendent issue in this campaign is still the War on Terrorism and nothing gets his supporters more fired up than his promise to defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq."

Reid's insight may have been acute but his use of words was loose. Reid's formulation grants too much credibility both to McCain's facile elision of the Iraq War with the War on Terrorism and to his controversial implication that the primary mission of the US military in Iraq is to wage war against al-Qaeda.

An ABC News nationwide opinion poll showed how far John McCain was going against the grain. Since September, George Stephanopoulos told us, those identifying the Iraq War as the most important issue in the election have declined from 35% to 20%; those identifying the economy have increased from 11% to 29%.


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