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Romney, Santorum battle over conservative vote in Michigan

TROY, Mich. — Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum on Saturday took their down-to-the-wire Michigan Republican primary duel to an influential group of conservative activists, a bloc each has to have to win in the too-close-to-call contest.

Both candidates offered fiery appeals — and stinging criticisms of one another — before about 1,200 people squeezed into the San Marino Club in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Mich.

They spoke hours apart, and each tried to portray himself as the race's most committed conservative. Whoever proves the most convincing here, and throughout the state, will gain an edge in Tuesday's crucial GOP primary.

Romney is vying to win the state his father once governed; Santorum is trying to show he can win in a blue-collar, industrial state.

Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, roused the crowd by insisting he has been on the right throughout his life.

"What you see is what you get," he said, "as opposed to what you see today is not what you may get tomorrow."

He proceeded to criticize Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, for his past center-right positions and his ties to Wall Street and the Republican establishment.

"I worked my way to the success I have, and I'm proud of it," said Santorum, the son and grandson of Italian immigrants.

He also pushed the "common man" theme.

"President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob," he said. "There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor."

Romney, appearing a few hours later, spent much of his talk bashing Obama and Santorum.

"This president is out of ideas. He's out of excuses. In 2012 he's going to be out of office," Romney said.

He also blasted Santorum for his Senate votes to raise the debt ceiling and for budget legislation that included family planning funds.

Santorum appeared to get a better response, but Romney was well received.

In the audience and halls, attendees expressed the same concerns heard throughout the state in recent days. People thought Romney was more electable and felt some pull for him because of his local roots. But they also voiced affection for Santorum and his strong social conservative views.

Romney, Santorum battle over conservative vote in Michigan 02/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 25, 2012 9:25pm]
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