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Romney courts Tea Party, makes veiled swipes at Santorum

MILFORD, Mich. – Standing before members of eight Detroit-area Tea Party groups on Thursday, Mitt Romney angled for their support by promising to shrink government by slashing deficits and cutting programs. 

"In lowering the tax rates I'm going to make absolutely sure we don't add to the deficit,” Romney said as he laid out his new tax plan to several hundred attendees here. “For me, the highest priority is getting America on track to have a balanced budget."

Romney's campaign has courted Michigan Tea Party groups strategically, according to one adviser, who said that most Tea Party affiliates in Michigan are more interested in small government than social issues, which the campaign believes plays to Romney's perceived strengths.

"I've got a whole list of programs we're going to eliminate," Romney promised, vowing not to pass trillion dollar deficits onto the next generation, but not naming any program other than "Obamacare," which he said he would cut completely.

Romney also undercut his main rival in Michigan, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, although he never mentioned Santorum by name. He linked Santorum to big spending in Washington and accused him of selling out his principles.

"These politicians run for office, and then go to Washington, and something happens there. I'm not sure what's in the water, but they decide that they've got to take one for the team," Romney said, referencing Wednesday night’s Republican debate, during which Santorum defended his support of the federal No Child Left Behind law. "They keep on voting for the same old stuff, and spending grows and grows over the years."

Later, Romney took another, less veiled swipe at Santorum. The two were neck and neck in recent polls.

"People go to Washington and they vote for things they don't believe in,” Romney said. “One of the candidates last night spent most of the evening describing why it was he voted against his principles. And he said you know you've got to take it for the team every now and again. Well, my team is the people of the United States of America."