- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Mitt Romney hoped to avoid an embarrassing home-state loss in Tuesday’s Michigan primary but blamed his difficulty attracting needed support from the state’s conservative Republicans on his unwillingness “to light my hair on fire” to get their votes.

Rival Rick Santorum, meanwhile, defended his campaign’s use of automated telephone calls encouraging Michigan Democrats to vote against Mr. Romney. He suggested that Mr. Romney did essentially the same thing earlier this year and should stop complaining.

The last-minute flurry of activity came as voting got under way in Michigan’s critical Republican presidential primary. Arizona also was holding a GOP primary Tuesday but, with Mr. Romney favored to win, Michigan’s tossup contest was alone in the political spotlight.

The race is critical for both candidates.

Mr. Santorum swept three states, including a nonbinding contest, on a single night early this month, and another win, especially in the state of Mr. Romney’s birth, would keep his momentum going.

Mr. Romney needs to avoid a potentially devastating setback in the state where he was raised and where his father, George W. Romney, served three terms as governor in the 1960s.

Asked by reporters why he’s struggling to win over his party’s right wing in his home state, Mr. Romney said it’s because he’s unwilling to say “outrageous things” like his opponents.

“It’s very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments. We’ve seen throughout the campaign that if you’re willing to say really outrageous things that are really accusative and attacking of President Obama, you’re going to jump up in the polls,” Mr. Romney said during a stop at his campaign headquarters in Livonia.

Answering questions for the first time in nearly three weeks from his traveling press corps, he said: “I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am what I am.”

Asked whether a series of comments by him highlighting his vast personal wealth were hurting the campaign, Mr. Romney said: “Yes. Next question.”

Mr. Santorum defended using the “robocalls,” saying his campaign is doing what it needs to do to win the vote.

“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,” Mr. Santorum said outside a Grand Rapids-area restaurant.

Mr. Romney has complained that the tactic is “deceptive and a dirty trick.”

But Mr.  Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, suggested that Romney did much the same thing by courting independent voters in New Hampshire’s GOP primary last month.

He also accused Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, of employing his own “dirty trick” by running automated calls before the 2008 election that featured a recording of Mr. Santorum endorsing Mr. Romney. Mr. Santorum suggested that Mr. Romney stop complaining.

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