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Right Turn
Posted at 01:19 PM ET, 02/06/2012

Santorum takes Romney to task for his ‘smear campaign’

The Romney team plainly recognizes that Rick Santorum is the last credible candidate standing in the Republican primary. It held a press call this morning decrying Santorum’s support for earmarks. (Is this really his greatest political liability?) Santorum’s camp came back with a statement pointing to favorable polling for Santorum and then blasting Romney:

If Governor Romney is confident running on his record and his vision for the future, he would [do so]. But Gov. Romney does what he always does and directs his well-funded attack machine to destroy the opponent. Mitt Romney’s act is tired, old and wearing thin with voters and I suspect at this point, with the media too. Romney never touts his own record — because it’s abysmal.
In the Republican Party we have a name for someone who supports government healthcare mandates, big bank bailouts, and radical cap and trade initiatives — we call them Democrats. Rick Santorum is the only conservative candidate who is positioned to defeat Obama because he can credibly and effectively attack the President for supporting big government healthcare mandates, government bailouts, and radical cap and trade initiatives. Mitt Romney can’t attack Obama on any of those major issues because Gov. Romney agrees with Obama on all of them — and his attack and smear campaign is his way of avoiding his liberal record.

A Romney spokeswoman declined comment. It seems getting entangled in a war of words with Santorum is not what the Romney team had in mind.

Santorum is smart to hit Romney on his record rather than on his biography (as Newt Gingrich did). His challenge is to highlight Romney’s ideological lapses while minimizing his own. Because Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) remain in the race and because Romney has an oppo team second to none, Santorum will also need to prepare an effective defense on more serious issues than earmarks (e.g., opposing right-to-work legislation, support for Medicare Part D). He will err if he delays (as Romney did on Bain and release of his tax returns) in deflecting incoming fire.

Right now Romney is actually doing better than you might imagine with conservative voters. Jay Cost has a must-read column, explaining, “It simply is untrue that Romney is not winning conservatives. In fact, a super-majority of Romney voters are in fact conservative and he has won more conservatives than any other candidate. The most conservative voters are not the bulk of his coalition, for sure, but overall his support is coming from the right side of the political spectrum.” Cost looks at the data and contends: “Romney has basically situated himself exactly in the middle of the GOP electorate: a plurality of his voters are somewhat conservative, with the remaining sampling from the moderates and the very conservatives. To defeat this coalition, an opponent would have to either steal some of his very conservative voters or cobble together a coalition that includes the far left and the far right of the electorate.”

It is precisely this task — stealing away Romney’s very conservative voters — that Santorum must accomplish. Were Gingrich to get out of the race, that effort would be less daunting. (In the first four contests, Cost finds that Gingrich got 39 percent of the “very conservative” vote, compared to Santorum’s 23 percent.)

But given Gingrich’s Saturday-night press conference debacle, Santorum now has an opening to tell very conservative voters that only he stands between Romney and the nomination. Tuesday’s elections in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, followed by the Maine caucus results, will be a significant test. Santorum needs to win a batch of these contests. If he does, Michigan and Arizona on Feb. 28 become critical both for him and for Romney.

By  |  01:19 PM ET, 02/06/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, Conservative movement

 
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