Santorum Urges Democrats To Vote Against Romney

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Ari Shapiro reports on the final day of campaigning in Michigan Republican primary. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney accused his rival, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, of making mischief by encouraging Democrats to vote in the Republican primary — against Romney.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel. And first this hour, today's Republican primaries in Michigan and Arizona. The stakes are especially high in Michigan, where Mitt Romney grew up. And with polls nearly tied, there was an 11th hour twist in the race, as we hear from NPR's Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: For the last day or so, Democrats here in Michigan have been getting phone calls with this recording.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBOCALL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Michigan Democrats can vote in the Republican primary on Tuesday. Why is it so important? Romney supported the bailouts for his Wall Street billionaire buddies, but opposed the auto bailouts. That was a slap in the face to every Michigan worker.

SHAPIRO: The call goes on to encourage Democrats to vote for Rick Santorum. Some Democrats are happy to oblige since they believe Santorum will be a weaker opponent to President Obama. Santorum defended his strategy on Fox.

RICK SANTORUM: You know, it's interesting that he criticized me for attracting Democrats because one of the things that Governor Romney's people say is, oh, he can't attract Democrats. Well, guess what? We'll wait and see. I think we can.

SHAPIRO: This morning, Romney accused Santorum of trying to kidnap the Republican primary process.

MITT ROMNEY: 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.

SHAPIRO: Romney was visiting his Michigan campaign headquarters, where he thanked volunteers making get-out-the-vote calls.

ROMNEY: You are making calls to Republicans today. This is a good thing, all right? Yeah. Yeah.

SHAPIRO: He then took questions from reporters for the first time in almost three weeks. Romney acknowledged that in Massachusetts, he has voted in Democratic primaries, but he said that's not the same.

ROMNEY: It's very different running for - being a candidate for president, buying ads and sending it, telling Democrats to go mess into a Republican primary and to vote against me.

SHAPIRO: Romney's tone suggested that he's no longer confident of winning tonight. When asked why he's having such a hard time in his native state, Romney said it's easy to excite the base with incendiary comments.

ROMNEY: We've seen throughout the campaign that if you're willing to say really outrageous things that are accusative and attacking of President Obama, that you're going to jump up in the polls. You know, I'm not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am.

SHAPIRO: Yet Romney also admitted that his own gaffes have not helped.

ROMNEY: I'm very pleased with the campaign, its organization. The candidate sometimes makes some mistakes. And so I'm trying to do better and work harder and make sure that we get our message across.

SHAPIRO: Romney has never before been quite so frank about his own shortcomings as a candidate. Every few days he says something that draws attention to his wealth. Sunday, at the Daytona 500, he mentioned that he's friends with NASCAR team owners. Last Friday, he noted that his wife drives a couple of Cadillacs. A reporter asked: Do you realize how these comments are hurting your campaign? Romney replied...

ROMNEY: Yes. Next question.

SHAPIRO: Even Romney's biggest fans acknowledge his shortcomings.

MIREI PLOTKI: He may not be getting the point across well, but he will be a good president.

SHAPIRO: Mirei Plotki(ph) and her husband Peter cast their votes for Romney at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church and School. Peter describes Santorum's robocalls as Chicago-style politics.

PETER PLOTKI: I know we have open voting in this state, but, you know, he's made a direct appeal, and several of our friends who are die-hard Democrats are voting basically to mess up this election.

PLOTKI: Yeah. I feel bad. I feel very bad about that. I can't believe that this is happening, that people really do that.

SHAPIRO: Santorum made a quick campaign stop in Ohio today, and he's back in Michigan tonight. He's holding his election night party in the western city of Grand Rapids, where he expects to do well. Romney is in his eastern Michigan stronghold near Detroit, which also happens to be the part of the state where he grew up. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Southfield, Michigan.

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