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AP/Photos by (Santorum) Eric Gay and (Romney) Carlos Osorio

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Politics | Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney employ different strategies in Michigan

In the days leading up to Tuesday's high stakes presidential primaries in Michigan and Arizona, the top two contenders for the Republican nomination have taken different tracks in their outreach to voters.

Rick Santorum, who is asking Michigan voters to cast their ballots for him so they can "shock the establishment," continues to focus on social conservatives.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who is favored to win in Arizona, is banking on an economic message to give him the edge in tightly contested Michigan. After Santorum's surprise wins earlier this month in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota, Romney can ill afford a loss in Michigan, which is the state where he was born.

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Romney won the Michigan primary during his failed 2008 presidential bid. But polls show Tuesday's race is too close to call. The state's results will set the tone for March, when 22 primaries and caucuses will be held.

Intent on keeping the race volatile, Santorum's campaign is sponsoring computerized phone calls that urge Michigan Democrats to vote against Romney in the state's Republican primary.

Santorum, during a Chamber of Commerce breakfast Monday in Livonia, Mich., described how the separation of church and state issue is being used to drive away people of faith from the political arena.

"The state has no business telling the church what to do," he said. "Now it's the church, people of faith who have no right to come to the public square and express their points of view. Or practice their faith outside their church."

It was a theme Santorum also pressed on Sunday when he said excluding people of faith from the public square "makes me throw up."

On Monday in Livonia, Mich., he added that "freedom of worship is not just what you do within the sanctuary. It's how you practice your faith outside the sanctuary, and at least the America that I grew up in … that was freedom of religion."

Santorum, who is Catholic, held an evening rally Monday at Heritage Christian Academy in Kalamazoo, Mich. Two pastors introduced the former senator from Pennsylvania, and a group of homeschooled children stood behind him. Santorum and his wife, Karen, have homeschooled their children.

Santorum, spent part of Monday arguing that his focus on social issues is part of his larger concern that Americans are losing their freedom to live without government interference. He listed Obamacare as the main example of that encroaching government, and he added that defeating this healthcare law is the top reason for why he is running for president.

"That's how they see this country," Santorum said referring to Democrats, "not people who are free and independent and have the ability to rise for themselves, but no, a group of people that need them and conversely they need you and their votes to keep their power."

Romney is fighting against a Michigan loss that would strengthen the perception that Republican voters remain cold to him. The former Massachusetts governor believes staying locked on economic issues is the best way to stop Santorum's surge. Romney underscored that tactic on Monday morning when he gave Santorum a backhanded compliment for writing a recent editorial on economic policy.

"I saw this morning that Sen. Santorum wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal; I'm glad to see that," Romney said during a campaign stop in Rockford, Mich. "He wrote a piece in there about the economy and tax policy and regulatory policy. I'm glad he recognizes this has got to be a campaign about the economy."

Stressing his own business experience, Romney attacked Santorum's resume for being thin on jobs outside of Washington.

"I understand what happens to corporate profit, where it goes if the government takes it," Romney said. "If the issue of the day is the economy, I think to create jobs it helps to have a guy as president who has had a job, and I have."

Romney also has tried to punch holes in Santorum's stances on social issues, primarily by reminding voters that Santorum supported pro-abortion Sen. Arlen Specter during his reelection effort in 1996. But a couple of times in the past week Romney had been unable to avoid social issues. On at least two occasions, during questioning from voters, Romney had to explain his former pro-abortion position. He changed to pro-life while governor.

"By the way, Ronald Reagan was pro-choice before he became pro-life," Romney said. "George Herbert Walker Bush was pro-choice and then became pro-life. Henry Hyde was pro-choice and then became pro-life."

While Santorum and Romney fight it out in Michigan, the other two remaining Republicans in the field have focused their resources elsewhere. Newt Gingrich spent Monday in Tennessee. The former speaker of the House hopes to revive his sagging candidacy with a series of wins in the South during the Super Tuesday primaries next week. Ron Paul is holding a rally Tuesday in Virginia. But the eyes of the political world on Tuesday will remain focused on Michigan.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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