There isn’t much time before the New Hampshire primary, but that doesn’t mean the race isn’t intense and increasingly contentious. The highest form of flattery for Rick Santorum is that he is now being attacked. Private and public polling show him cracking into double digits in New Hampshire polls, so his opponents have good reason to be concerned.
The Romney camp is wary enough to send around a jab from its surrogate Sen. John McCain:
I respect all of the candidates. And I respect their willingness to run. It is very tough to do that. It is a grind that is hard to describe unless you have been part of it. I respect Senator Santorum. He and I had very strong differences on earmarking and pork barrel spending. I believe that earmarking is a gateway drug to corruption. Senator Santorum supported it and engaged in it as much as he possibly could. I strongly disagreed with it. That was a fundamental difference we had in the Senate. But I still respect him.
We can expect much less genteel criticism from Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.). As a source with knowledge of the Paul campaign’s thinking told me this morning, “The Paul camp is going to fight hard to stay in second in New Hampshire.” A GOP veteran in New Hampshire not aligned with any campaign tells me that is very likely to occur, predicting that Santorum will “siphon” off enough votes from Gingrich to leave Ron Paul in second.
In order to hold his place in second, Paul no doubt will be taking on his rivals with hard-hitting ads of the type he launched in Iowa. That means continuing his assault on Newt Gingrich, and going after Santorum on spending and earmarks (if he considers the latter a viable contender). Prepare to hear a lot (from Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Romney) about Santorum’s “decades” in Washington.
Santorum laid low yesterday, using his Iowa performance to blanket the airwaves. But that doesn’t mean he and his supporters are sitting back. Stuart Roy, an experienced political operative, sends out a press release today touting the Santorum SuperPac:
Sen. Santorum demonstrated in Iowa that he has made this a two-man race due to his appeal as a principled conservative who can be trusted,” said Stuart Roy, an advisor to the Super PAC. “Throughout his career he has proven his appeal to hard-pressed middle class voters and crossover voters and an ability to take on the establishment and win.”
Red, White and Blue Fund endorsed Santorum in mid-December and went on the Iowa airwaves with an initial TV ad of $200,000. In the closing week they ran several hundred thousand dollars in a second wave of advertising taking their ad buy total to $537,335. In total, RWB Fund spent over 20 times on advertising in Iowa than the Santorum campaign.
Roy promises, “The Fund is currently making plans for an additional and expanded presence in the upcoming primary states.”
They better get going quickly. The anti-Santorum drumbeats are already getting louder. Reuters reports on Santorum’s involvement in the so-called “K Street Project,” in which Republican leaders cozied up to lobbyists, and on his post-Senate work as a “consultant” for three corporations. Likewise Politico leaps into the fray, reporting on Santorum’s post-Iowa strategy meetings with his “K street crew.” But Santorum’s opponents will have to do better than simply pointing to his associations with players in Washington. They’ll need to show he was acting in ways contrary to the conservative agenda. With the example of Gingrich, the Santorum team should be ready to explain what Santorum did and didn’t do, and demonstrate that his record in the House and Senate was solidly conservative.
And finally, let’s not forget Newt Gingrich. The man with nothing to lose, who already made an Occupy Wall St. argument against Romney’s Bain work, is at it again:
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, angry over his poor performance in the Iowa caucuses, may have a new and unlikely partner in his quest to tarnish rival Mitt Romney: President Barack Obama.
Though they both wish to win the 2012 election, Obama and Gingrich share an agenda in bringing down Romney, who won the first Republican nominating contest in Iowa on Tuesday.
In other words, the fur will be flying in the days leading up to the weekend debates. Those face-offs may be some of the more contentious in the race. Certainly, Romney is still the favorite, but his rivals are conceding nothing and will unload on him and each other to try to vault into contention.