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This week marks the first day of the Republican primary for president, when voters will select whether to vote for Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan for the Republican nomination or Rick Santorum for the Democratic nomination. The New York Times’s Michael D. Shear and Mark Leibovich are taking a look at the Republicans’ presidential front-runners, based on what’s in their records and attitudes about how they govern.

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Romney’s most striking feature is his determination to shrink the nation’s federal government. But his plan is not, as many supporters hope, what his supporters actually think of it. The Times’s report finds that not all Romney supporters share his antipathy to the federal government. They worry that his proposals would cut too many government programs. A majority, for example, say they would like to reduce the federal budget deficit, but only if the deficit went down more quickly than his plans.

Some of the same voters who think the Romney plan is unworkable also are the ones who say they like his policy views, such as the idea that Medicare should remain a private system and that the federal government should be able to block grants the states for a limited period and then offer the money back to states.

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The Times story also highlights the Republican candidates’ stances on immigration. The Times finds that Romney wants to keep the current policy in place, in which the executive branch accepts about a thousand illegal immigrants each year while the border wall is built. Santorum wants to eliminate legal immigration, which is already on the decline as a share of the population. Romney wants to increase immigration by a quarter; Santorum wants to reduce it by six.

While all three candidates want to make it harder for unauthorized aliens to get work permits, Romney and Santorum have different answers about how they would do it, based on who else in government they would appoint. A majority of Romney supporters, 54 percent, see the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as the appropriate place to make changes, while