By STEVE PEOPLES
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 Romney. He suggested that 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 Romney favored to win, Michigan's tossup contest was alone in the political spotlight.
The race is critical for both candidates.
Santorum swept three states, including a nonbinding contest, on a single night early this month and another win, especially in the state of Romney's birth, would keep his momentum going. Romney needs to avoid a potentially devastating setback in the state where he was raised and where his father, George, served three terms as a 1960s governor.
Asked by reporters why he's struggling to win over his party's right wing in his home state, 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 ach*
But for now, he's pleased with his progress.
"If the ball is coming out easy, with minimal effort, with life, then I know," Morton said. "If I can throw strikes, for the most part, and feel natural, and not force anything, that's about where I want to be."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)