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Right Turn
Posted at 01:25 PM ET, 01/03/2012

Santorum takes on Ron Paul over gun rights, abortion

Rick Santorum is on the eve of a game-changing election. He’s about to go from an also-ran, and largely ignored, candidate to the Cinderella candidate. He’ll be the featured player in the “But the real winner tonight is . . . ” news stories. He’s already become the target of his opponents’ ire.

The Post reported that he told a group of Fox News reporters, “Ron Paul is disgusting.” Did he mean, you know, in general? I talked with his senior advisor Hogan Gidley, who explained that Santorum was reacting to Paul’s attacks on him, which are unmoored to any facts. On the Second Amendment, “He says Rick is anti-gun?! Guess who is a an NRA member and who has an A-plus rating from the NRA? Rick Santorum. Guess who doesn’t have an A-plus? Ron Paul.” Likewise, Gidley says Paul’s attacks on Santorum for being pro-choice are ludicrous. “Rick was asked about that. He said, ‘If I’m pro-choice, you’re going to have a hard time finding anyone who is pro-life.’ ”

The Santorum team thinks candidates who are skipping the New Hampshire primary for South Carolina are making a big mistake. “Rick from the get-go said he would be competing in the first three states. That’s what he’s going to do,” Gidley said. “People in New Hampshire appreciate candidates who spend time in New Hampshire. People in South Carolina appreciate candidates who spend time in South Carolina.” He pointed to the time spent by Santorum in both those states as evidence that he’s already laid the groundwork to do well in those contests.

Santorum may have the better game plan. It is true that since 1980 no Republican candidate has won the nomination without winning South Carolina. But it is also the case that no candidate has won South Carolina after losing badly in the first two states. If Santorum comes into New Hampshire with a head of steam, he could conceivably vault into second place, and with top-three finishes in both early states, it will be hard to argue he’s not the best positioned, perhaps the only candidate positioned, to beat Romney.

Certainly, Newt Gingrich can go on as long a he likes, lobbing rhetorical bombs as he goes. There is no question Texas Gov. Rick Perry can find the resources to keep battling in South Carolina, throwing grenades at Santorum for his position on earmarks. (Gidley gives such criticism the back of the hand, noting that Perry received loads of money from the feds. How is it improper for Perry to ask for the money for his state but a violation of conservative principles for Santorum to deliver money to his state?)

But at some point conservatives will begin to ask, to what end are the Iowa and New Hampshire losers continuing to fight on. In doing so, Perry, Gingrich and others will surely be helping the front-runner Romney, who wants nothing more than to keep the field crowded for as long as possible.

By  |  01:25 PM ET, 01/03/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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