DETROIT, Michigan — Democrats hoping to prolong the gaffe-ridden Republican presidential nominating contest got a boost this week when Rick Santorum’s campaign launched ‘robo’ calls urging them to support him in Michigan’s open primary Tuesday.
Santorum defended the automated calls as standard electoral politics, saying he was targeting conservative Democrats in order to show he would have broad appeal in a November election match-up against President Barack Obama.
Rival Mitt Romney lashed out at Santorum’s “dirty tricks” Tuesday as he tried to temper expectations ahead of a potentially embarrassing loss in his home state just a week before pivotal Super Tuesday, when 10 states head to the polls.
“The hardest thing about predicting what’s going to happen today is whether senator Santorum’s effort to call Democratic households and tell them to come out and vote against Mitt Romney is going to be successful or not,” Romney said in a morning press conference.
“I think Republicans have to recognize there’s a real effort to kidnap our primary process and if we want Republicans to nominate the Republican who takes on Barack Obama I need Republicans to get out and vote and say no to the dirty tricks of a desperate campaign.”
Romney’s team has also slammed Obama’s “pathetic” attempt to change the outcome of the race by not only attacking Romney’s conservative credentials but urging Democrats to “kill Romney” with a vote for Santorum.
Brad O’Donnell, 22, of Lansing, said Republicans only have themselves to blame.
“The Michigan Republican Party made a big mistake by basically inviting Democrats to vote in their primary,” said O’Donnell, a firm Obama supporter who cast a ballot for Santorum on Tuesday.
“Voting for Santorum was a no-brainer. The longer the primary goes on, the more time there will be to find some more skeletons on Mitt Romney.”
Retired autoworker Dennis Budziszewski, 63, of Canton, urged friends and relatives to vote for Santorum in order to embarrass Romney, whom he reviles for opposing the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler.
“I’ve been pushing this on Facebook for days,” the diehard Democrat told AFP. “There’s a very real possibility we can pull this off.”
Even a modest win in Michigan could cement Santorum’s position as a genuine alternative to Romney and prove that his surprise wins in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri on February 7 were no fluke.
A staunch Christian conservative who strongly opposes abortion and gay marriage, Santorum advanced in the polls by painting himself as the authentic conservative and his multimillionaire opponent as out of touch.
Romney currently leads in pledged delegates after having won the more important states so far.
He also has the best-funded and most organized campaign, which will certainly help in what could be a long slog to the Republican National Convention in August.
All four remaining candidates — including former House speaker Newt Gingrich and congressman Ron Paul of Texas — have vowed to stay in the race until the convention, where a result might have to be brokered behind the scenes if no one reaches the magic number of 1,144 delegates.
While there is certainly a concerted effort to get large numbers of Democrats out to the polls on Tuesday, it’s not clear how much of an impact they will have.
Two polls released Tuesday showed Romney and Santorum in a dead heat in the economically hard-hit Midwestern state, which awards half its 42 delegates to the state-wide winner and the other half based on the winner of congressional districts.
Herb Harris, 55, of Detroit, joined a movement to have Obama supporters vote for Paul, a small-government champion, to get him some delegates from Detroit congressional districts.
“It will make Romney look bad,” Harris said. “He was very offensive to Detroit. He brags about his five homes and that he’s a Michigander, but not one of those homes is in Michigan.”