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Rick Santorum: Can Democrats' 'mischief vote' give him Michigan win?

Michigan is an 'open primary' state, so some liberal commentators are calling for Democrats to cast a primary vote for the candidate they say is less likely to beat President Obama in the fall.

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Arizona and Washington also have a primary vote or caucus between now and March 6, but Michigan is symbolically the most important, as a swing state and the place where Romney's father served as a popular governor.

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Voters in Michigan can only cast a ballot in one primary, but Democrats there have little reason to care about voting in the primary of their own party. Obama stands as the clear nominee.

In recent Michigan polls, at least two-thirds of likely voters in the GOP primary are Repbublicans, while 5 to 18 percent have been Democrats and the rest independents or members of some other party.

Steve Mitchell, president of one of the polling firms, Mitchell Research & Communications, says he hasn't seen evidence of a rush by Democrats to support Santorum in order to prolong the race or to promote a "weak" candidate. But, he warns, "It's always hard to pick that up in the survey." 

Twelve years ago, some Democrats did cast what Mr. Mitchell calls "mischief" votes in the Michigan Republican primary, seeking to embarrass Gov. John Engler (R) in his efforts to promote the candidacy of George W. Bush.

The promoters of things like "Operation Hilarity" should perhaps attach a cautionary warning, though.

Four years ago, some Republicans cast what political scientists call "strategic votes" in Democratic primaries, with some viewing Obama as a weaker nominee for Republicans to face than Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama had little trouble winning the general election. 

And in 1980, some Democrats promoted Ronald Reagan during the primary process, Mitchell says, arguing that Jimmy Carter would stand a better chance against him than against other potential rivals including George H.W. Bush.

The idea of supporting Santorum – a politician with outspoken views on controversial social issues ranging from gay marriage to abortion – is a tough sell with many liberals, even as a mere "strategic" move.

"We need to push back on Santorum, not propel him into perceived popularity," writes David Badash on the blog The New Civil Rights Movement.

Santorum showed a lead over Romney and other Republicans among both Democrats and independents who are likley to vote in the GOP primary, according to Mitchell's latest poll, conducted along with Rosetta Stone Communications on Feb. 20. 

But many remain undecided.

Among Democrats, 41 percent of likely GOP primary voters said they were undecided, 19 percent said they will support Santorum, 16 percent will support Romney, 13 percent will support Newt Gingrich, and 11 percent will support Ron Paul.

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