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Can money stop Rick Santorum?

at 12:45 PM ET, 02/15/2012

Rick Santorum is about to get buried.


Rick Santorum is being dramatically outspent. (Charlie Litchfield - Associated Press)

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and his allies at the super PAC Restore Our Future are spending $1,240,230 in Michigan this week, according to a Republican media buyer. The former Pennsylvania senator is spending $42,443 — not a typo — and none of his super PAC supporters have spent anything.

That means there will be 29 times more Romney ads than Santorum ads on the air in the Wolverine state.

(Santorum’s campaign is planning ad buys in five states but did not disclose any details.)

And he’s not the only one hoping to take out Santorum. Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s wealthiest supporter, is reportedly considering spending another $10 million to take Santorum down.

Santorum has prided himself on running a frugal campaign. Gingrich was equally boastful of his shoestring operation — until he was hit with the full force of Romney’s money.

From then on, Gingrich followed Romney’s lead.

But there are a couple reasons why Santorum might be a tougher target for Romney.

1. Gingrich is an opposition researcher’s dream opponent. He’s been divorced twice. He was slapped with an ethics violation. He left Congress with many enemies, after being pressured into stepping down as Speaker. He’s been on multiple sides of a number of high-profile issues.

Santorum, on the other hand, is far less polarizing. It’s true that he lost a Senate race by 19 points and that he profited off his connections after leaving office. But he lacks Gingrich’s outsized reputation and high negatives.Unlike Gingrich, he fares almost as well as Romney against Obama.

The attack plan a Romney adviser laid out to BuzzFeed — hitting Santorum on “earmarks, lobbying, voting to raise the federal debt limit five times” — could be used against any former congressman.

And Romney’s campaign has (so far) shied away from attacking what is arguably Santorum’s weakest point: extremely conservative positions on many social issues — for example, contraception. (However, some controversial past remarks from Santorum have started appearing in the press.)

"Sen. Santorum is an ardent defender of earmarks, joined with the big-spending establishment in Washington to vote 5 times to raise the debt ceiling and sided with big labor by opposing Right-to-Work legislation,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “There are a lot of questions about his record that are still left unanswered.”

2. Romney has to start worrying about the effect all these negative ads might have on his own electability. His favorability rating has been declining at a precipitous rate. Two days ago, the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that he “isn’t winning friends with his relentlessly negative campaign” and needs “to make a better, positive case for his candidacy beyond his business resume.”

Santorum made that argument himself in an ad out Wednesday morning, in which a Romney lookalike sprays mud on Santorum and ends up getting coated himself.

Romney’s best bet might be for Adelson to follow through and for Gingrich (or his super PAC allies) to do the dirty work.

 
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