Could Democrats give Santorum a boost in Michigan?

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) waits to speak during a campaign stop at the St. Mary's Cultural & Banquet Center on Feb. 27, 2012 in Livonia, Michigan. Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum
Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum
AP Photo

A day ahead of Michigan's Republican primary contest on Tuesday, some Democrats in the state appear to be forming an unlikely partnership - with Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

In what increasingly looks like a neck-and-neck competition between Santorum and his Republican rival Mitt Romney, some liberal forces are hoping to give the former Pennsylvania senator a boost, by urging Michigan Democrats to vote for him.

Michigan has an open primary, which means that Democrats and Independents are able to vote in the Republican primary.

Romney has deep roots in the state: he was raised in Michigan, and his father served as its governor. A Santorum win in the Wolverine state would be perceived as a devastating loss for the Romney campaign.

Some Democratic forces are doing their best to make that happen.

The liberal website Daily Kos is calling on "Democrats, liberals and progressives" to vote for Rick Santorum in open primaries and caucuses across the country as a way to drag out the Republican nominating process, which the website argues would be beneficial for Democrats in the general election.

Given the "razor-thin" nature of several nominating contests, alongside relatively low GOP turnout, the Daily Kos argues, Democrats could actually have a meaningful influence in some of the open nominating contests. "It won't take many of us to swing contests the way we want them to swing," reads a blog post announcing the initiative, entitled "Operation Hilarity."

The liberal blog is not the only outlet pushing for Democratic turnout on Tuesday: Michigan Democratic strategist Joe DiSano has launched a similar campaign within the state - and he says he expects about 8,000 or 9,000 Democrats to vote for Santorum tomorrow.

DiSano says he conducted a robo-call in Michigan over the last week encouraging Democrats to vote for Santorum in order to "embarrass Romney" and prolong the Republican process.

According to DiSano, the robo-call instructed voters to "press one" to signal their willingness to vote for Santorum. He says 12,000 Democrats pressed one.

"If he were a stronger candidate, none of this would matter - but he's so weak and defeated here in Michigan that any little effort could push him over the edge," DiSano told CBS News.

DiSano predicted that between 280,000 and 320,000 people are going to vote in the Michigan primaries on Tuesday. "If you believe - and I do - that this thing is going to be razor-sharp, if I turn out even 1,000 people, we could tip the balance," he said.

DiSano also pointed to a similar robo-call, which he says is being blasted throughout Michigan, which appears to be coming from the Santorum campaign.

That ad also urges Democrats to vote against Romney by voting for Rick Santorum. At the end, the ad says it is "paid for by Rick Santorum for president." (Talking Points Memo appears to have audio of the ad here.)

"The call goes on for so long that it's designed for the listener to hang up - but if you listen to the end, they identify themselves as Santorum for president," DiSano says.

In a statement, Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said the possibility that Santorum's campaign was trying to gin up Democratic turnout on his behalf was "outrageous."

"It is outrageous that Rick Santorum is inviting Democrats into the Republican primary to vote against Mitt Romney," Williams said. "Rick Santorum has moved beyond just 'taking one for the team,' he is now willing to wear the other team's jersey if he thinks it will get him more votes. We believe that Republicans will decide who wins Michigan - and we are confident that will be Mitt Romney."

The Santorum campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether or not it was behind the ad.

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