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Santorum plays up immigrant roots in Arizona speech

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum reached out to anti-illegal-immigration hard-liners in Arizona while also playing up his own Italian-immigrant roots during a campaign speech Tuesday.

"The economy of this country is struggling, why? Because Americans are different than everybody else in the world. Your ancestors and maybe you came here because you wanted to be free. Your DNA is different than those who stayed behind," said Santorum at the Maricopa County Republican Party's Lincoln Day lunch. 

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In an impassioned speech, the former Pennsylvania senator touted his family’s emigration from Italy to the United States. 

"I know my grandfather came to this country and brought my dad as a boy, I've been back and visited my relatives. They are wonderful people, but they're nothing like my grandfather," he said. 

“They weren't the man who worked for 30 years in a coal mine, digging coal, working hard every single day so he could provide for his son who might someday be able to get a college education or his grandson who might be able to run for president." 

On Tuesday, Santorum reached out to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his tough stance on illegal immigration, and former state Sen. Russell Pearce, architect of the state’s controversial immigration measure, both of whom attended the Tuesday luncheon. Santorum met privately with Arpaio before the event.

The issue of immigration is key to many GOP voters in the state, which has one of the nation’s most stringent anti-illegal-immigration laws. An endorsement from either Arpaio or Pearce could boost Santorum with conservative voters.

Santorum, who has leaped ahead of the GOP field in national polls, is within striking distance of winning next week’s Arizona primary. A CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday showed Santorum trailing Romney by four points, while a Public Policy Polling survey showed him down by three. 

The GOP hopeful argued, during his address, that government intervention would stifle the qualities that made Americans unique. 

"When you put the yolk of government on a people who want to be free, who have a tradition, who have ancestry of hardworking freedom-loving people, who are willing to go out and fight for that, when you put that yolk upon them they bristle, they stop," Santorum said. 

"We're different, we don't want to be ruled."