WARREN, Michigan (CNN) - Good morning from the National Coney Island Diner in Warren, Michigan. It’s just after 3 a.m., and it’s still three hours until the diner opens, but already there is a buzz in the air that goes beyond the neon lights that entice you to try “Coca-Cola,” “Beer and Wine” and “Sweets.”
This year, for the Republicans at least, Michigan’s contest takes on an importance rarely seen before. By moving up the date of the primary, Michigan - once little more than an afterthought in the nominating process - has become an active player, at least on the Republican side.
The state today has the potential to make or break the candidacy of native son Mitt Romney, was born in Michigan, where his father was a popular three-term term governor. He needs to do well, but John McCain has the electoral history in Michigan, having won the primary in 2000. The two candidates are taking contrasting message on the trail here. Mitt Romney says he believes he can bring back lost jobs in the auto industry and is pledging that in the first 100 days of his presidency, he would convene a summit to rebuild the Big Three automakers. McCain, on the other hand, believes many of those jobs are gone forever, and would focus instead on retraining for jobs of the future. Whose vision will Michigan Republicans buy?
There’s a wild card here, though. In 2000, an estimated 52 percent of voters in the GOP primary were not Republicans: Michigan has an “open” system, and Democrats and independents regularly participate in that party's contest. With the top three Democratic candidates not campaigning here because of Democratic National Committee sanctions - and, in fact, only Hillary Clinton's name on the ballot - there’s a good chance Democrats who want to make their vote count might vote in the Republican primary.
Is Michigan completely irrelevant for the Democrats? Not according to the state's governor, Jennifer Granholm. Though the state lost all of its party delegates when it moved the primary up before the February 5 cutoff date set by the DNC, Granholm believes the early position has focused new attention on Michigan’s economic woes - attention it would have never received had it s voters gone to the polls on or after February 5. Certainly, it does seem that we have been paying more attention to the auto industry and job losses in Michigan than in years past.
For decades, the media has trended toward covering the horserace rather than the issues. CNN has made a major commitment to change that mindset. We believe the way we can best serve our valued viewers is to help them make up their minds about the candidates by providing them with information. So, for the next month, as we take American Morning on the road to the early primary states, expect a lot of substance in our coverage. We hope you enjoy the change!
–CNN American Morning Anchor John Roberts