In a new ad targeting former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney declares that “America is drowning” and only one candidate can help.

“America is drowning in national debt,” the narrator says. (According to the image that plays, America is a man in a suit, carrying a briefcase). “Yet Rick Santorum supported billions in earmarks.” A clip from a Fox News interview plays of Santorum saying, “I have had a lot of earmarks, in fact I’m very proud of all the earmarks I put in bills.”

The ad cuts to Romney at a town hall saying he would cut the budget by applying this test: “Is this program so critical that it makes sense to borrow money from China to pay for it?”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney attacks President Obama’s leadership and handling of the federal budget in a political ad. (Jan. 19) (CMAG)

The line of attack is familiar, following a plan laid out by the Romney team to focus on Santorum’s work in the Senate.

While the “I have had a lot of earmarks” quote isn’t new, it doesn't make him look good. (Here’s a fuller version of the 2009 clip used, in which Santorum argues that members of Congress should have some control over where money is spent.)

And the optics here may be as important as the message.

Santorum looks flustered and is cut off mid-sentence. Romney, on the other hand, is perfectly lit and poised.

Romney is dramatically outspending Santorum in Michigan, but the socially conservative ex-senator continues to lead in polls.