Gerald Herbert, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney laughs with supporters as a child cries after he tried to hold him at a campaign rally in Kentwood, Mich., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012.
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan's GOP presidential campaign ratcheted up Wednesday as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum continued to court the conservative vote. Prominent Romney supporters blasted Santorum for his voting record, while Santorum used an ad to accuse a gun-toting Romney lookalike of flinging political mud.
In Santorum's ad, an unseen voice says Romney and outside groups have spent $20 million "brutally attacking fellow Republicans." It continues, "Why? Because Romney's trying to hide from his big government Romneycare, and his support for job-killing cap and trade."
The gun then misfires, hitting the Romney doppelganger with mud. The announcer says, "Romney's ugly attacks are going to backfire."
Meanwhile, Romney's supporters said the former Massachusetts governor's organized campaign will produce a "strong showing" for the Michigan native, although they didn't predict an outright win.
"We're going to be like a vacuum cleaner, getting every vote we can," said Romney's Michigan campaign chairman, state Attorney General Bill Schuette. Romney's first ad in the state plays up his Detroit upbringing. In it, he says he wants "to make Michigan stronger and better. Michigan has been my home and this is personal."
Schuette criticized Santorum for his 2009 vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as his lack of support for right-to-work legislation that would allow workers covered by union contracts to avoid pay union dues. Santorum also has backed earmarks, which Romney opposes.
"These issues are not lost on tea party activists, on conservative activists," Schuette said. "I think we'll see a sharpening of contrasts."
Santorum campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley accused Romney of hiding from his record, and said "Romney's act is old, tired and wearing thin with voters."
In Idaho on Tuesday, Santorum said he thinks he can do well in Michigan, which he sees as a blue-collar manufacturing state that is not dissimilar to his home state of Pennsylvania. He hopes to "finish a good, strong second" to Romney.
Romney won Michigan's 2008 GOP presidential primary, when he was the conservative alternative to eventual nominee John McCain. Santorum is trying to attract religious and social conservatives, while Romney is wooing tea partier and others who want smaller federal government.
Republican state Rep. Aric Nesbitt told reporters that though Santorum is gaining ground in national polls, he expects that to cool off once voters find out more about the former Pennsylvania senator's voting record. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said Romney, whose father was governor in the 1960s, will attract voters who want a known entity.
Schuette noted that if Romney is the GOP nominee, Democrats will have to spend resources in Michigan before the general election, which will help GOP candidates farther down the ticket such as Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow's opponent, who will be chosen in the August primary. It also could help Republicans hold onto the Michigan House, he said.
Both Romney and Santorum are scheduled to appear in Michigan this week and are running television ads. The other Republican candidates, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, haven't announced any stops in Michigan so far.
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Romney campaigned Wednesday in the Grand Rapids suburb of Kentwood with a roundtable and rally at furniture maker Compatico Inc. He's also scheduled a roundtable Thursday after touring the National Galvanizing factory in Monroe and is supposed to speak Thursday at a Farmington Area Chamber of Commerce event in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills.
Santorum plans to speak Thursday to the Detroit Economic Club at Cobo Center in Detroit. Later that day, he is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Oakland County Lincoln Day Dinner in the Detroit suburb of Novi. On Friday, a rally in Macomb County's Shelby Township is planned.
Michigan isn't a winner-take-all state, so both Romney and Santorum could share all or most of Michigan's 30 delegates if both finish strong.
Follow Kathy Barks Hoffman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kathybhoffman.