Could Democrats trip up Romney in Michigan primary?

theGRIO REPORT - A group of Democratic activists are encouraging liberals here to vote in the GOP primary on Tuesday for either Ron Paul or Rick Santorum in an attempt to weaken Republican favorite Mitt Romney...

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DETROIT – A group of Democratic activists and supporters of Rick Santorum’s campaign are encouraging Democrats to vote in the GOP primary on Tuesday, a move that could prevent primary favorite Mitt Romney from winning.

Unlike other states’ primaries and caucuses, Michigan voters do not register by party, so any registered voter can participate. Democrats could, in theory, vote in large numbers and affect the results. More than 1.5 million people are expected to participate in Tuesday’s primary.

Democratic activists were already trying to intervene in the primary, encouraging people to back Santorum or Ron Paul in an attempt to stop Romney from regaining momentum in the GOP race. And the Santorum campaign formally joined the effort as well on Monday night, using an automated phone call to contact Democrats throughout the state, as first reported by Talking Points Memo. In the call, the narrator blasts Romney for opposing the auto bailout, calling it a “slap in the face to every Michigan worker.”

The call, which explicitly notes that Democrats can vote in the primary, does not remind voters that Santorum also opposed bailing out the car companies.

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“They’re allowed to vote,” Santorum said in an interview with NBC’s Andrew Rafferty on Monday night, referring to the Democrats. “And anybody who wants to vote, I encourage them to vote. Why wouldn’t I encourage people to vote for me?”

Liberals defended the idea of trying to affect the GOP primary results.

“There is a $10 million election taking place with our tax dollars,” says Mildred Gaddis, a Detroit radio host and Democrat, who is encouraging her listeners to vote for Paul. “Help me and help Ron Paul get all the votes he can. We need him to run as an independent, shaving off votes from the Republican.”

Ernest Johnson, a community organizer and Obama supporter, who is also planning to vote for Paul, said “the ultimate goal is to defeat Romney.”

“He told Detroit to ‘go bankrupt’. We know Romney is going to be the nominee,” Johnson said. “We want him wounded, we want him to lose his native town so people can say, ‘He can’t even win his home state.’ That will go a long way (in President Obama being re-elected). We are looking way further than tomorrow.”

“If Democratic crossover votes affect the results of the GOP presidential primary next Tuesday, the Republicans will only have themselves to blame,” Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer said last week, who also seemed to endorse this approach.

The Democrats who are considering backing Santorum or Paul are doing it only for tactical reasons, as many of them are very opposed to the GOP candidates. They are particularly frustrated by Santorum’s recent comments, ranging from casting President Obama as a “snob,” to insisting that colleges are “liberal indoctrination mills” that are out to change people’s faith.

“I kind of feel bad for the Republicans,” said David Stephen, a law student at the University of Detroit Mercy. “They are so willfully ignorant. They are so willing to oppose anything that this President stands for they willfully go along with ridiculousness. Going to college is an American dream and I don’t think anyone truly believes that we should at least be afforded the opportunity to go whether we go or not.”

Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith