Livonia, Michigan (CNN) - The morning after confidently declaring he would win Michigan's primary, on Tuesday Mitt Romney acknowledged a series of gaffes had damaged his effort and downplayed expectations for the voting results in the state where he was born.
Romney accused former Sen. Rick Santorum of using "the dirty tricks of a desperate campaign" after Santorum's team encouraged Michigan Democrats to support him in the state's open primary. Romney said the effort could hurt him when the votes are tallied Tuesday night.
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"I think the hardest thing about predicting what's going to happen today is whether Senator Santorum's effort to call Democrat households and tell them to come out and vote against Mitt Romney is going to be successful or not," Romney told reporters at his campaign headquarters in Livonia during his first press conference in almost three weeks. "I think Republicans have to recognize there's a real effort to kidnap our primary process."
The GOP candidate spent the past week campaigning across Michigan, where the two campaigns have bombarded the airwaves with negative advertisements and polls still showed the men running neck-and-neck.
But seeking to draw a contrast between himself and his Republican opponents, Romney called Santorum an "economic lightweight" and said he would not "light my hair on fire" and espouse extreme positions in order to galvanize disaffected Republicans.
"It's very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments," Romney said. "I'm not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am."
Santorum has drawn the support of some social conservatives with impassioned remarks on issues such as abortion and religion in the public sphere – issues Romney tends to shy away from instead keeping his focus on the economy.
When pressed by reporters, Romney acknowledged he had hurt his campaign with a series of comments in which he seemed to casually flaunt his wealth. Over the past several days, Romney mentioned his wife drives "a couple of Cadillacs" and told an Associated Press reporter he has friends who are NASCAR team owners.
A reporter asked if these remarks had hurt him.
"Yes," Romney said. "Next question."
The press conference was a dramatic turnaround from a triumphant final rally Monday night, which drew roughly one thousand enthusiastic supporters as well as famed Detroit rocker Kid Rock.
"I'm going to win in Michigan and I'm going to win across the country," Romney told the audience and asked for their votes.
Despite his stated concerns, Romney seemed at ease Tuesday, joking with campaign volunteers and reporters at his campaign headquarters.
When a staffer suggested the candidate might want to begin taking questions from the press, Romney quipped "no" while he picked up the microphone.
Later, a reporter followed up on his refusal to "light my hair on fire."
"I'm not going to do it," Romney joked about his famous coif, to laughter. "I don't care how hard you ask. It would be a big fire, I assure you."