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For strategic voters with a penchant for independent action, presidential primary season is the most wonderful time of every four years.

While most Michigan voters likely won’t bother to cast a vote in the Feb. 28 primary, others see their votes as powerful, even in a symbolic sense, and begin thinking strategically about where a well-placed vote might do the most good. Or ill.

Then there are the ethical questions: If voting is the essence of being a good American, is it a betrayal of American goodness to vote for a candidate on the other side? To vote for someone whose politics you abhor?

Weeks ago, when Mitt Romney was riding high in the polls, conservative pundits worried that Democrats and nominal independents would rush to cross over and vote for Rick Santorum — potentially the most conservative candidate in the field and presumably less electable than a more moderate Romney in the general election.

In two polls released Monday, though, Santorum is now leading in Michigan, as Romney fails to effectively woo solid Republican voters.

Democrats hoping to play in the Republican race are looking at a handicapping nightmare: a surging Santorum, and Romney sagging in his birthplace state.

(Republicans are unlikely to vote in the Democratic primary, as are many Democrats, given its predetermined outcome.)

In presidential politics, little proceeds according to plan.

Remember in 2008, when Hillary Clinton’s nomination was deemed a certainty in the months before the primaries began?

“There were Republicans then who wanted to see Barack Obama get the nomination because he was considered unelectable,” recalls Steve Mitchell, the pollster and chairman of Mitchell Research and Communications.

In 2000, Democrats and independents helped to boost John McCain to victory, a feat that embarrassed then-Gov. John Engler, who had promised to make Michigan a “firewall.” They also crossed over in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, aiding Rick Snyder.

Says Mitchell: “This is not that kind of race.”

Mark Grebner, a Lansing political analyst, culls and sells voting information obtained from public records. He has already counted absentee ballots.

As of Friday, 28,110 absentee ballots had been requested in Detroit — and the requests were running overwhelmingly Democratic, despite that party’s ballot listing only one candidate: President Barack Obama.

“The evidence so far is that very few people are crossing over,” Grebner says, based on the 1,708 Republican ballots requested in Detroit.

But the primary is an open one, requiring only that voters choose a Democratic or Republican ballot.

In a state where nobody has to register as a party member, that request may be less of an obstacle to mischief-friendly Democrats than the Republican lineup.

“Be careful what you wish for,” Mitchell says.

My advice: If you aren’t voting for the one you love, you should vote for the one you can live with.

Read Laura Berman’s column on Tuesday and Thursday in the Detroit News

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