Rick Santorum takes an ax to one-time ally Newt Gingrich

at 06:30 AM ET, 01/20/2012

Rick Santorum, perhaps recognizing a make-or-break moment in the South Carolina Republican primary, set about chopping down each of his opponents issue-by-issue in Thursday’s debate.

The former Pennsylvania senator had attacks at the ready for each of his opponents, and perhaps more successfully than any candidate in the dozen-plus debates so far, used them to good effect.

The strategy was either the mark of a desperate candidate, a very smart one, or perhaps both. One thing is clear, though: He did Mitt Romney a major favor.
Presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum got into a heated discussion over whether the other was qualified to be president at Thursday’s debate. (CNN)

That’s because Santorum reserved his strongest attacks for Newt Gingrich, an erstwhile ally and political mentor whom Santorum suggested has to account for his second wife’s allegations and whom he accused of being “grandiose.”

“Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. He handles it very, very well,” Santorum said. “I don’t want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and worrying about what he’s going to say next. And that’s what I think we’re seeing here.”

Santorum moved on to attack Gingrich for his stewardship of the U.S. House, where Santorum served with Gingrich prior to his speakership. He at one point said the speaker told him he had been aware of the House banking scandal as much as a decade before it came to light.

“It was an idea a minute, no discipline, no ability to be able to pull things together,” Santorum said.

But perhaps most valuable for Romney, Santorum piggy-backed on the controversy over the allegations lodged by Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, that he had sought an “open marriage.” Santorum said it represented an issue “of character for people to consider.”

Romney was then asked to give his version of what the allegations meant, and he smartly passed; Santorum had done his dirty work for him.

Santorum also tried to unite his attacks on Gingrich with his attacks on Romney, hitting both men for supporting individual health care mandates and for coming up short on abortion. He said Gingrich gave lip service to the pro-life movement in the House and Romney didn’t move hard enough to prevent federal funding for Planned Parenthood when he was governor of Massachusetts.

He also had tough words for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) on the abortion issue, noting that Paul’s record on the issue has earned him similar ratings from pro-life groups as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

But most of Santorum’s fire was reserved for Gingrich, whose leadership and conservatism were called into question in the same way a pro-Romney super PAC did in Iowa and New Hampshire. And the format, which has been reduced to four candidates, allowed Santorum to go round and round on the issues with Gingrich.

But by doing so, Santorum seems to be playing for second place and hoping that there is a second ticket to Florida for a conservative alternative to Romney.

That’s a risky bet, but it’s about the only wager Santorum can make right now, given that most polling shows him in third place in South Carolina, not in striking distance of the first-place Romney.

Santorum's attacks may be overshadowed by the controversy involving Marianne Gingrich — along with Gingrich’s very forceful response to those reports -- but they do matter.

Gingrich’s ‘open marriage’ problem: ABC News aired its full interview with Marianne Gingrich last night, and in the interview, Marianne says the former House speaker saw his eventual third wife, Callista, as an asset in an eventual bid for the White House.

“He did tell me once that she was going to help him become president,” Marianne Gingrich said.

Gingrich’s campaign opted not to respond directly to Marianne’s interview on Thursday, instead criticizing ABC for airing the interview so close to Saturday’s South Carolina primary. The candidate called it “tawdry and inappropriate.”

At the debate Thursday, though, Gingrich derided the media coverage of the issue and issued a blanket denial of Marianne Gingrich’s claims.

Redistricting standoff in Kentucky: Kentucky’s Democratic state House and Republican state Senate have passed competing congressional redistricting plans, paving the way for a pitched battle over what the final product will look like.

House Democrats passed a map that would split Rep. Hal Rogers’s (R-Ky.) home county into two districts and add Owensboro to Rep. Ed Whitfield’s (R-Ky.), 1st district, giving them better odds in each district. Senate Republicans have passed a map that looks a lot like that state’s current congressional map, under which they control four of six districts.

For more on Kentucky redistricting, make sure to check out our Mapping the Future piece on Kentucky.

Kentucky’s filing deadline is less than two weeks away — Jan. 31 — so a resolution is needed quickly, unless the legislature moves the filing deadline.

Fixbits:

Gingrich and his wife earned more than $3 million in 2010 and paid about $1 million in taxes, according to his just-released tax return.

South Carolina’s former first lady and ex-wife of a cheating husband, Jenny Sanford, goes after Gingrich.

Rick Perry endorsed Gingrich, but his financial backers appear to be breaking for Romney.

Herman Cain’s big endorsement goes to ... the American people?

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is reportedly making calls for businessman Steve Welch in the GOP primary to face Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

Kanasas Republicans have proposed some new congressional redistricting maps.

1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis will stump for Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) in his primary matchup with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

Florida Senate candidate Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) picks an interesting fight ... with the Kennedy scion running for Congress in Massachusetts. Of course, Mack himself comes from a famous family.

Must-reads:

Perry’s Voters May Not Flock to Gingrich” — Nate Silver, New York Times

Contrary to popular belief, politicians often keep campaign promises” — Ezra Klein, Washington Post

Rick Perry’s ‘oops’ campaign never ready for prime time” — Dan Balz, Washington Post

A Final Indignity, Where the Crusade Began” — Jay Root, Texas Tribune

After Wikipedia blackout, lawmakers struggle to keep anti-piracy bills on track” — AP

 
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