Huffpost Politics

Rick Santorum Fires Line Of Defense In Michigan Primary

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By STEVE PEOPLES, ASSOCIATED PRESS

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum defended his campaign's use of automated telephone calls to encourage Michigan Democrats to vote against Mitt Romney on Tuesday and suggested his rival did the same thing by courting independents in an earlier contest.

"We're going to get voters that we need to be able to win this election. And we're going to do that here in Michigan today," Santorum said outside a Grand Rapids-area restaurant, hours after the polls opened in Michigan's contested GOP presidential primary.

Romney has complained that the tactic is "deceptive and a dirty trick."

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, suggested that Romney did much the same thing when he courted independent voters in New Hampshire's GOP primary last month.

He also accused the former Massachusetts governor of employing his own "dirty trick" by running automated calls before the 2008 election that featured a recording of Santorum endorsing Romney. Santorum suggested that Romney should stop with the complaints.

"I didn't complain about it. I don't complain. You know what? I'm a big guy. I can take it," Santorum said.

Only Michigan Republicans may vote in Tuesday's GOP primary, but party rules allow voters to change their affiliation temporarily on the spot.

Santorum's automated message says Democrats should send "a loud message" to Romney by voting for Santorum.

Romney said the tactic was "a new low" in the campaign.

"I wasn't too concerned about what the Democrats were putting out there because I figured it wouldn't have much impact. But Sen. Santorum did something today which I think was deceptive and a dirty trick," Romney said on Fox News.

Santorum made two appearances at local restaurants near Grand Rapids early Tuesday, a city set in a western Michigan region home to many of the social conservatives and tea party supporters he is courting. Accompanied by his wife, Karen, Santorum shook hands for a few minutes at each stop, but did not say much beyond thanking the sometimes unsuspecting diners for being there. He did not ask for anyone's vote.

Santorum's recent rise to prominence in the GOP presidential contest has been fueled by a continued reluctance among the GOP's more conservative voters to embrace Romney.

"I don't trust him," Carol Alexander, of nearby Wyoming, Mich., said of Romney while waiting for Santorum to arrive at the Rainbow Grille in Grandville, Mich.

A self-described religious conservative, she said she was leaning toward Santorum, who she says "speaks what he believes."

Alexander said she's been inundated with phone calls from campaigns, adding that "it's been getting kind of nasty." But she discounted the impact of Santorum's latest tactic.

"Do you really think a liberal is going to vote for Santorum?" she asked with a smile. "I don't think they're going to do it."

Recent polls suggest the Michigan contest is essentially a tossup, despite Romney's strong ties to the state. He was born and raised in Michigan, where his father served as governor in the 1960s.

"I think the fact that we are doing as well as we are is a pretty big deal in this state," Santorum said in Lansing.

Arizona also holds its GOP presidential primary Tuesday. Romney is favored to win.

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