The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller
Former Sen. Rick Santorum debates former Gov. Mitt Romney in a Republican debate on Fox. Former Sen. Rick Santorum debates former Gov. Mitt Romney in a Republican debate on Fox.  

Heading to Minnesota and Missouri, Romney campaign swings at Santorum

Coming off weeks of alternately attacking Newt Gingrich and President Barack Obama, the Romney campaign switched gears on Monday and came out swinging against former Sen. Rick Santorum, who looks to be Romney’s toughest competition in the three primary contests on Tuesday.

Minnesota and Colorado hold their caucuses on Tuesday, and Missouri holds a non-binding primary that day. Polls suggest that Santorum could perform strongly, especially in Missouri and Minnesota.

In Minnesota, Santorum actually edges Romney 29 percent to 27 percent. In Colorado, he holds a distant second place 14 points behind Romney, but leads Gingrich by 8 points, suggesting that he may be taking the place of the former speaker of the House as the Romney alternative. In Missouri, Gingrich is not on the ballot — having not filed the necessary paperwork — leaving an opening for Santorum.

The Romney campaign seems aware of the challenge and blasted out three emails Monday morning going after Santorum’s record. One attacks Santorum for “false attacks on Massachusetts health care;” a second is a statement from former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Romney endorser, calling Santorum “an ardent defender of pork-barrel spending;” and a third announces a press conference that Pawlenty is holding to talk about Santorum’s “long history of pork-barrel spending.”

“If Governor Romney is confident running on his record and his vision for the future, he would,” Santorum advisor Hogan Gidley told The Daily Caller in response to the attacks. “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,” he went on. “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.”

Gidley told The Daily Caller last week that Santorum’s path to victory leads through the three states holding contests Tuesday, and suggested that he was in the process of replacing Gingrich as the anti-Romney after Gingrich’s loss in Florida. (RELATED: Full coverage of the 2012 elections)

“The Gingrich campaign made a huge mistake, you know: They ran in Florida, spent a ton of money and a ton of time, and they have nothing to show for it,” Gidley said. “When given the opportunity to go to head-to-head with Mitt Romney they got beaten, and they got beaten badly.”

That, said Gidley, was probably a “wake-up call for donors, wake-up call for supporters — that ‘wait a minute, I thought this guy could do something against Mitt Romney, and he couldn’t get it done.’” This, Gidley predicted, would push people Santorum’s way.

“Smart move for Romney to define Santorum before Santorum gets a chance to define himself… just in case,” Republican political consultant Alex Castellanos emailed TheDC.

“The last thing you do in a race is to take your foot off the pedal in the home stretch,” echoed Republican consultant Dan Hazelwood.

Bob Kish, a Midwest-based Republican political consultant, was skeptical, however, that Santorum posed any threat to Romney, or Gingrich, for that matter, in the long run.

“While I think Santorum gets a small bump for these victories, I don’t think he has the national network, fundraising base or charisma to capitalize on these victories,” Kish wrote TheDC in an email. “And from here the election moves to places where Newt can excel as a southern conservative. I think Newt will get his mojo back in upcoming debates.”

The Romney campaign did not respond to request for comment by press time.

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