Republicans await Super Tuesday
Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are battling for the critical Michigan primary while looking ahead to the huge potential gains of the Super Tuesday voting.
A bonanza of delegates will take part in the 10-state nominating contests next week.
Mr Romney and Mr Santorum are virtually tied heading into the critical Michigan vote on this Tuesday where the outcome could further boost Mr Romney's tenuous front-runner position or upend the race for the party's nomination to challenge President Barack Obama in November.
Michiganders vote on the same day as Arizona Republicans. Polls show Mr Romney with a clear lead in the conservative far-Western state.
The Michigan showdown will be a warm up to the one looming on March 6 in neighbouring Ohio, one of the 10 Super Tuesday states.
Mr Romney currently leads in the race to amass the most delegates with 123. Mr Santorum has 72, while former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have 32 and 19, respectively. The totals include endorsements from Republican National Committee members who will automatically attend the party's national convention and can support any candidate they choose.
A candidate needs 1,144 delegates to secure the nomination.
The vote in Michigan will test former Pennsylvania senator Mr Santorum's far-right message on social issues and determine how badly Mr Romney has damaged his chances in his native state by continuing to insist that Mr Obama was wrong to bail out the US auto industry, the heart of the state's ailing industrial base.
The auto giants General Motors and Chrysler have come roaring back from near-collapse after a huge infusion of federal money, managed bankruptcy and wrenching reorganisation. Mr Romney's opposition to that programme has hurt him in Michigan, where even the Republican governor and GM chief, also a Republican, flatly disagree with him. Polls show Mr Obama with a double-digit lead over both Mr Romney and Mr Santorum in the Midwestern state.
As the Republicans battle for the nomination, all of them now trail Mr Obama in national polls. The president has seen his approval ratings improve in tandem with signs that the struggling US economy is finally on the way toward a robust, albeit still shaky, recovery.