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Differences between Santorum, Romney crystallize

When Rick Santorum told a Michigan crowd they had come to see him because "freedom is at stake in this election," a man in the crowd shouted a word that's almost never heard at Mitt Romney's campaign events: "Amen!"

When Romney went to Milford, Mich., to talk to tea party voters, he took a handful of pre-screened questions from event organizers. After Santorum wrapped up a 30-minute speech to several hundred tea partyers early on a Saturday in St. Clair Shores, he picked hands eagerly waving in the audience.

"I can't get out of here alive without taking a few questions," the former Pennsylvania senator said.

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum touts his "positive message of hope" on jobs and the economy in the upcoming Michigan primary.

Day by day, event by event, Michigan's critical primary on Tuesday is crystallizing the dramatic differences between Romney, the on-again off-again GOP front-runner, and Santorum, his current top challenger for the Republican presidential nomination.

The two men are running almost neck-and-neck in this struggling Rust Belt state, but as the two campaigned just miles apart on Sunday, the voters they spoke to were as different as the messages they brought and as the campaigns they are running.

See related: Santorum bets he connects better in Romney's home state

The contrasts are both stylistic and substantive, and they illustrate why Romney, a multimillionaire business executive and a Mormon, is suddenly struggling in the presidential primary in the state where he was born and raised as he runs against Santorum, a strict Catholic who wears sweater vests and highlights his background as the senator from another suffering manufacturing state, Pennsylvania.

Standing at a podium in a nightclub on the outskirts of town, Santorum outlined a vision of American greatness driven by the workers who he says built it.

"We know what works in America. Bottom up. Bottom up has built a great country," Santorum told a crowd of about 600 on Sunday. Many were still dressed in their church clothes; others wore Detroit Red Wings jackets and camouflage hunting caps.

He spoke for nearly an hour before taking questions, the crowd following him the whole time, whistling and cheering and shouting back, running through the Declaration of Independence like a call-and-answer sports cheer.

"They are endowed by their — " Santorum started. "CREATOR!" the crowd shouted back.

When a young girl standing near the stage piped up: "You should be president!," Santorum smiled and thanked her. "Out of the mouths of babes," he said to the crowd, referencing Matthew 21:16.

And when a reporter mingled with the crowd and approached him after the event, Santorum stopped to answer a question about whether he supports raising the minimum wage along with inflation, as Romney has said he does.

"I am not in support of that. That's inflationary and doesn't make any sense," Santorum said. "It's bad policy."

A few hours later at a soaring ballroom in the Park Place Hotel downtown on Sunday night, a state representative and a congressman stalled for about 45 minutes before Romney stepped onto the stage at the front of the room, an enormous campaign sign hanging behind him.

He spoke for about 20 minutes, offering his standard campaign speech with some added focus on his Michigan roots.

"The right course for America is to believe in free people and free enterprises — and I do and I will," Romney told the crowd of about 700, some men in jackets and one with a ball cap advertising the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses at the nearby Grand Traverse Resort. He cited the "pioneers and innovators" who helped America thrive and said: "Their success did not make us poorer. Their success made us better off!"

Romney earned more laughter than usual for mentioning his boyhood cross-country road trips in his parents' Rambler, the audience obviously familiar with the old model of car his father retooled when he was running American Motors. The hometown crowds are more at ease with Romney than those in other states, but his interactions with voters throughout his events are shorter and much less frequent than Santorum's.

Romney barely mentioned religion, stopping only to emphasize the reference to the creator in the Declaration of Independence and citing the motto, "In God We Trust."

Romney hasn't appeared at or held a public event at a church since he announced his bid for president in June, though he has attended Sunday services — joining a Mormon congregation in West Des Moines the weekend before the Iowa caucuses, for example.

He focuses on his general economic message instead.

"If you want someone who will dramatically and fundamentally change Washington and bring you less government and more jobs, then I'm you're guy," Romney said Sunday night, a version of a line he's repeated countless times.

Then the former Massachusetts governor took pictures and signed autographs.

But he took no questions. Romney hasn't responded to questions from the national traveling press corps in 19 days, and attempts to approach him after campaign events are met with a smile — and no other response.

As Santorum and Romney enter their final day of campaigning in Michigan, they are both looking to win over the thousands of voters who have been out of work for years as their state has struggled to replace the blue collar manufacturing jobs that powered its economy for decades. Santorum is directly appealing to the Michigan's vibrant tea party movement and religious social conservatives.

In early primaries and caucuses, exit and entrance polls show Romney has done far better among higher income voters than he has with those who make less than $50,000 a year. And people who don't identify themselves as evangelical Christians backed him in much higher numbers than those who say they are evangelical.

As he looks to take on Romney, Santorum is selling himself as the conservative crusader, a deeply religious man from a blue-collar state who will go to Washington and stand fast against the cultural and economic forces that he says are encroaching on traditional families and manufacturing jobs.

"More people go to church on Sunday than go to all the professional sporting events combined in a year," he said. He dubbed his jobs plan "supply side economics for the working man."

"There are a lot of people in this country who want to use their hands and their minds together to make something," Santorum said Saturday in St. Clair Shores, where he appeared without almost no senior staff in tow and spoke from a podium that was nearly level with the crowd. "That's their vocation — that's what they were made to do, that's what they want to do, that's what they love doing. . And guess what, there's less and less chance to do that."

A man shouted in response: "No one even knows how to run a machine anymore!"

"That's right," Santorum replied.

Santorum's policies echo this philosophy. He's proposing cutting the corporate tax to 17 percent from 35 percent, and slashing corporate taxes for manufacturers to zero, a move he says will help bring back blue collar jobs. He barely mentions the labor unions that helped keep those jobs well-paying.

It's another contrast with Romney, who says Santorum is "picking winners and losers" in an economy where the vast majority of jobs are in other sectors. The former Massachusetts governor hosts many of his events at small business and local factories, where he'll often tour the facility with the company's owner, founder or CEO before speaking with a group of the company's workers — and a bank of local TV cameras.

His campaign consultants call them "messaging events."