Santorum's Appeal to Michigan Democrats Is 'Dirty Trick,' Romney Says; But Reagan Did It, Too

By Susan Jones | February 28, 2012 | 8:39 AM EST

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, left, greets supporters during a campaign rally, Monday, Feb. 27, 2012, in Kalamazoo, Mich. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

( - Former Sen. Rick Santorum, in a Michigan robocall, is urging Democrats to send "a loud message" to Mitt Romney by voting for Santorum in Tuesday's primary.

“Well, it's a dirty trick, it's outrageous, to see Rick Santorum team up with the Obama people and go out after union labor in Detroit and try and get them to vote against me," Romney said Tuesday on Fox & Friends.

"Look, we don't want Democrats deciding who our nominee is going to be. We want Republicans deciding who are nominee is going to be.”

Romney said Santorum "has a lot of explaining to do."

“I just think it's outrageous, and disgusting, a terrible dirty trick -- at the last hour, by the way, late in the afternoon on the day before the election -- maybe hoping no one would notice -- they start sending out calls to Democrats, union members, telling them to go into the Republican primary and vote against Mitt Romney.”

But Santorum isn’t the only Republican presidential hopeful to make a pitch for the support of union Democrats.

As the National Journal reported on Nov. 1, 1980, the Ronald Reagan campaign, in the run-up to the general election in that year, successfully reached out to blue-collar Democrats in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri.

As the article noted, "Reagan's forces have tried to sidestep union officials and contact voters directly, using television advertisements to emphasize the issues of inflation and unemployment. Trying to attract television news coverage, Reagan makes frequent appearances with workers in hard hats at industrial sites -- preferably idle ones."

In some of his campaign literature, Reagan also played up his stint as a former union president (Screen Actors Guild).

Reagan carried 44 states in 1980, including the union-heavy states mentioned above.

Santorum, speaking with Sean Hannity on Monday night, indicated that Romney has some nerve accusing him of dirty tricks.

"When he runs a robocall of my voice from four years ago saying good things about him -- that's not a low moment? And when I run a call basically calling Democrats, who are eligible to vote here, to vote for us -- that's a very positive robocall."

But Romney – repeatedly accused by Newt Gingrich of playing dirty tricks – on Tuesday called the appeal to Democrats "a new low" for Santorum's campaign.