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Right Turn
Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 02/28/2012

Santorum fishing for Democratic votes: Nothing wrong with that?

Monday night the Santorum campaign admitted it was sending out robocalls in Michigan trying to get Democrats to vote for its candidate over Mitt Romney. Romney’s spokesman, Ryan Williams, pounced, sending out a release that read: “It is outrageous that Rick Santorum is inviting Democrats into the Republican primary to vote against Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum has moved beyond just ‘taking one for the team,’ he is now willing to wear the other team’s jersey if he thinks it will get him more votes. We believe that Republicans will decide who wins Michigan — and we are confident that will be Mitt Romney.”

This morning Romney personally unloaded on Santorum on an appearance on Fox and Friends, telling voters: “It’s a dirty trick. It’s outrageous to see Rick Santorum team up with the Obama people and go out after union labor in Detroit and try and get them to vote against me. Look, we don’t want Democrats deciding who our nominee is going to be. We want Republicans deciding who our nominee is going to be. I know why Obama doesn’t want me to face him, but I just think it’s outrageous and disgusting, a terrible dirty trick. At the last hour, by the way, late in the afternoon on the day before the election, maybe hoping no one would notice, they start sending out calls to Democrats, union members, telling them to go into the Republican primary and vote against Mitt Romney. This is reminiscent of the dirty tricks in the past and it’s got to end and I think Rick Santorum has a lot of explaining to do.”

Well, let’s unpack this whole thing. For starters, the ad could easily have been construed as coming from a legitimate Democratic organization. The Fix reports:

“Michigan Democrats can vote in the Republican primary on Tuesday,” the narrator says in a copy of the call initially obtained by Talking Points Memo. “Why is it so important? Romney supported the bailout for his Wall Street billionaire buddies, but opposed the auto bailout. That was a slap in the face to every Michigan worker. And we’re not going to let Romney get away with it.”
Then the ad closes with: “This call is supported by hard-working Democratic men and women and paid for by Rick Santorum for President.
Despite the disclaimer, the source of the ad was initially unclear when TPM first posted it, and some even thought it was a dirty trick played by Democrats seeking to get supporters to vote for Santorum over Romney. Democrats have toed the line of actively encouraging Democrats to vote against Romney.
It’s also an odd message considering that Santorum also opposed the auto bailout.

Aside from some strategic ambiguity as to the origin of the ad, there is nothing legally or even politically wrong with going after Democratic votes. The primary is not limited to registered Republicans. Just as GOP candidates in New Hampshire appealed to independent voters who were allowed to vote in that contest, it is perfectly acceptable to try to maximize a candidate’s votes by corralling Democrats. If the GOP wants a closed primary, it can have one.

That said, it’s rather embarrassing to be caught snuggling up to pro-union Democrats since Santorum characterizes himself to Romney’s right. The robocalls are either trying to confuse voters that Santorum supported the auto bailout (which he did not), or an admission that Santorum is perceived as the weaker candidate (Democrats, come vote for me to help you in November!). It sure does muddy his message, which is that he’s the one with the bolder contrasts to go up against Obama.

This is an inside-baseball story that is not likely to influence actual voters today (other than to inform some Democrats that the ad is from Santorum and not actual Democrats). Moreover, the number of mischief-making voters who are really going to bother to vote, I imagine, is quite small.

The impact of the story, if any, is to give Romney an excuse if he loses in Michigan and to muddle Santorum’s message. In his anxiousness to try to pull in a few Democratic voters, Santorum has undercut his own self-description as the most Republican of the Republican candidates and conveyed a certain desperation.

By  |  09:00 AM ET, 02/28/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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