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Santorum vs. Romney: I'm no lightweight, you're a lightweight

 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- As Michigan and Arizona voters went to the polls today, the gloves came off between the two top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination.

The first blow came this morning in Livonia, Mich., when Mitt Romney called Rick Santorum "an economic light weight." The remark kicked off a day of verbal sparing and boxing metaphors between the two both stumping in the Wolverine State. "I don't think he understands the process of job creating," Romney added.

It was later that Santorum responded to the former Massachusetts governor, calling him "a lightweight on conservative accomplishments."

The latest candidate to surge in the polls attempted to spin Romney's comments as an attack on his wealth.

"I'm not a heavyweight," Santorum said. "I’m not a multimillionaire. I'm someone who has gone out and worked hard and learned my economics from shining shoes."

(Santorum may not be as wealthy as Romney or even Newt Gingrich, but the former Pennsylvania senator made more than $1 million in 2010 and half of 2011.)

Of the two states holding primaries today, it is Michigan that has received the bulk of attention. Santorum is threatening in the state where Romney spent his youth and his father served as governor. As a result, the contest here has gotten increasingly negative, with each candidate running scorching television ads in the state.

Romney is pointing to a robo-call from the Santorum campaign as the latest example of the mudslinging. The call features a message calling on Democrats to vote against Romney in the Tuesday primary.

Romney said on Fox News that the calls are "outrageous and disgusting, a terrible dirty trick at the last hour."

But Santorum and advisers contest the move was nothing more than an attempt to reach out to a broad base of voters. "I don't remember Mitt Romney running around and doing anything but trying to encourage Democrats and independents to vote for him in New Hampshire," Santorum contended.

A win for Santorum in the state would be a tremendous boast for a candidate still struggling to to keep compete with the money and organization of his chief rival. However, campaign advisers argue that the race is close enough that they don't need an actual Santorum win to claim a victory.

"I think it's already a win by the fact that it's this competitive with Mitt Romney in his home state," senior Santorum strategist John Brabender said on MSNBC.

Both candidates will take their campaigns to Super Tuesday states tomorrow, with Romney heading to Ohio and Santorum to Tennessee.