Romney Looks to Dual Targets: Santorum and Obama

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  March 1, 2012 at 8:56 AM EDT

Photo of Mitt Romney by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Team Romney says the candidate learned a valuable lesson in January — don’t let up, even when you’re sure you’ve nailed it. That’s why the campaign, and the supportive super PAC, bankrolled relentless attacks on Newt Gingrich. And why the heated back and forth between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum isn’t likely to let up.

Consider Wednesday.

Romney dubbed Santorum an “economic lightweight,” and said someone with his own business credentials can oust President Obama and lead the nation.

“I have real experience, I’m asking for your vote, I need your delegates, if I’m the nominee I’m going to beat Obama, I don’t think anyone else can,” he said in Bexley, Ohio.

That was coupled with a conference call with Romney surrogates lambasting Santorum for encouraging Democrats to vote for him in Michigan.

Team Santorum fired back with a release under the subject line: “Mitt Romney says stop talking to Democrats — Mitt Romney should stop being a Democrat.” Burn.

“The fact that Mitt Romney is whining that hard working, blue collar Democrats decided to vote in Michigan’s open primary is laughable. Not only did Mitt Romney boast of voting in the 1992 Massachusetts Democrat primary, argue that he didn’t want to ‘return to Reagan-Bush,’ but he has spent nearly his entire political career acting like a Democrat – that is until he made the calculated decision to run for President,” Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

But at the same time, Romney isn’t taking his eyes off the November prize. The campaign is using a months-old quote from an unnamed Democratic strategist in a fundraising pitch that caught fire on Wednesday. In this new web video, the campaign spoofs Obama headquarters in Chicago, with a Democrat emailing his fears that Romney is winning primary contests. For one quick second, the words “Kill Romney” appear on the screen.

The Morning Line went digging, and found the video was showing this Politico blog post headlined: “Barack Obama’s 2012 plan: ‘Kill Romney.’” That blog post linked to an Aug. 9 Politico story headlined “Obama plan: Destroy Romney” by Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin. The story includes this line: “Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney,” said a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House.

It’s not clear what “aligned with the White House” means, if that is code for someone who actually works on the Obama team. But the message is clear. In the months since, Obama aides have distanced themselves from this story, which also suggests the campaign would try to portray Romney as “weird.”

Should Romney prevail and become the nominee, expect this issue, and that quote to surface again.

WHAT OHIO VOTERS ARE SEEING

With five days until the Ohio primary, the candidate visits have started and the television ads are in heavy rotation. And as in other states, those spots are coming from not just the campaigns, but super PACs as well.

On the local ABC affiliate in Columbus Thursday morning the pro-Romney Restore Our Future ad titled “Values” aired at least twice during the 6 a.m. hour. The spot attacks Santorum for voting to allow “convicted violent felons regain the right to vote,” and for supporting “billions in wasteful pork, including the ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’”

The Romney campaign is also going after Santorum with an ad that uses his own words in the recent Arizona debate against him. The spot runs the clip of Santorum saying that sometimes he voted against his principles to “take one for the team.” The closing line: “Rick Santorum, just another Washington insider.”

It’s important to keep in mind the sample size, but there were no ads from Santorum campaign or the Red, White and Blue Fund super PAC supporting the candidate during the hour-plus of viewing Thursday morning.

But that doesn’t mean Romney wasn’t a target. The pro-Obama Priorities USA Action super PAC is airing its “Bankrupt” ad in the Columbus area. The spot seeks to tie Romney’s opposition to the federal bailout of the auto industry to his private sector experience, which included leveraged buyouts. “Mitt Romney — there’s no question he made a fortune from businesses he helped destroy,” the ad’s narrator says.

Romney’s visit to the Columbus area on Wednesday was the fifth story (behind the mayor’s state of the city address and severe weather) on the 11 p.m. news on the city’s local NBC affiliate. The coverage noted the “packed house” at Capital University and included a clip from Romney criticizing the president for failing to fulfill his promise to keep the unemployment rate below 8 percent.

One of your Morning Line co-authors was at that Romney town hall in Bexley and filed this report.

RACE TO 1,144

“This is likely to play out until at least April, if not beyond then,” Josh Putnam, who runs the excellent Frontloading HQ blog, told Gwen Ifill on Wednesday’s NewsHour.

Putnam (@fhq) was joined on the program by Christina Bellantoni, who outlined the difficult path ahead for any of the non-Romney candidates to reach the magic delegate number. Instead, Romney is likely to amass delegates in a slow build through the spring.

Watch our delegate discussion here or below.

SUPER SPENDERS

The Morning Line chatted Wednesday with aides from the pro-Santorum and pro-Gingrich super PACs. Georgia voters should expect to be inundated soon with Super Tuesday ads.

The Santorum boosters think he’s within “single digits” of Gingrich in his home state and are looking for the ex-senator to split the delegates there. They also like Santorum’s chances in Tennessee and Oklahoma, and said North Dakota’s caucuses look “really good.”

The Red White and Blue Fund backing Santorum has phone, mail and voter ID programs at the grassroots level in each Super Tuesday state, spokesman Stuart Roy said. So far it is only running television ads in Ohio but that’s expected to change soon.

But Rick Tyler of the pro-Gingrich Winning our Future super PAC sounded confident telling the Morning Line he thinks Santorum lost all his momentum after his narrow loss to Romney in Michigan. “Newt has made a career out of recapturing momentum over and over again,” Tyler said. He likes the former House speaker’s chances in the Southern states voting Tuesday and said his candidate looks to win big in the Peach State. “Georgia is to Newt what Michigan was to Romney,” he said.

Also worth noting, Winning our Future is up on television in states that vote after Super Tuesday, including Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi. It’s the first time the super PAC is ahead of the game and not playing catchup to the pro-Romney Restore our Future super PAC.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • The campaigns were in a tizzy Wednesday after Romney said during an interview with the Ohio News Network that he opposed a Senate measure sponsored by one of his top supporters in Congress, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., that would allow employers and insurers to opt out of a provision in Mr. Obama’s health care law requiring them to provide contraception. Romney later said in a radio interview that he backed the Blunt amendment and that he had “misunderstood” the question.

That gives Democrats ammunition to call him both a flip-flopper and someone who won’t support women. The Democratic National Committee makes that point in this new web video and Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said in a statement: “In one hour, Mitt Romney showed why women don’t trust him for one minute. It took little more than an hour for him to commit his latest flip-flop. Even worse, he ended up on the wrong side of an issue of critical importance to women.”

  • Santorum has his own problems with female voters. Exit polls from Tuesday showed the former senator lost every category of women by several points, and specifically single women by 7 points.

  • That’s why he’s been talking about his grandmother, wife and daughters at all of his campaign events. The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson and Sandhya Somashekhar write about the trend.

  • Gingrich’s daughters star in a Women for Newt web video. Watch.

  • Santorum raised $9 million in February.

  • A poll released Wednesday by Middle Tennessee State University of GOP voters shows Santorum leading Romney, 40 percent to 19 percent. It’s the second Tennessee poll released this week showing a lead for the former Pennsylvania senator.

  • MSNBC’s Voter Confidence Index (VCI) continues to show Mr. Obama’s reelection chances are improving. His latest indexed number, released Wednesday, is -21, putting Obama’s reelection chances somewhere between those of George W. Bush in 2004 and Jimmy Carter in 1980.

  • Team Obama delivered the latest blow in what has become a very public spat between the president’s campaign team and billionaire Republican mega-donors the Koch brothers. After an antagonistic back-and-forth late last week, Obama for America campaign manager Jim Messina sent a letter to Koch’s Philip Ellender on Wednesday, writing:

“It is a cynical stretch to describe the political activities of your employers as furthering democracy when they are courting huge checks from special interest donors to pay for negative ads, with no public disclosure of the identity of those donors.”

  • Politico’s Morning Score writes that Rep. Ron Paul “bought airtime in Idaho yesterday afternoon on Fox and some broadcast -the exact amount undisclosed – to air the spot criticizing his three main rivals as one in the same. He’ll spend Monday and Tuesday in the state.”

  • Democratic strategist Karen Finney criticizes Santorum’s “righteous rhetoric” in a column for The Hill.

  • The Washington Post’s Emily Heil on Romney’s unique culinary history.

  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry has had more success after dropping out of an election than he did when he was running, the Houston Chronicle reports.

  • Are you following @burlij? He’ll be our man on the ground in Ohio through Sunday. Also follow @merrillnewshour and @judywoodruff as they report on the Buckeye State.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Rep. David Dreier, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, announced his retirement Wednesday. “I have always believed that Republicans and Democrats alike serve the American people best when we find ways to build bi-partisan consensus,” the 16-term California Republican said on the House floor. “We all have different, sometimes radically different views of how to build a better and stronger America. These differences demand a passionate debate, but that debate must ultimately arrive at consensus.” A Dreier spokeswoman told the NewsHour that “he just felt it was time.” But Dreier was facing an almost impossible re-election battle thanks to the citizen commission’s work redrawing Congressional boundaries. Dreier is the fourth Californian to announce his retirement in the past two months and the 21st House member to retire this cycle. Check out Roll Call’s “Casualty List.”

  • Time’s Jay Newton Small writes about Iran complicating matters for the GOP.

  • Roll Call’s Meredith Shiner and David M. Drucker look at the loss of moderates on Capitol Hill.

  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee targets the GOP over the Blunt bill in a new web video.

  • Democrats on K Street are warning their corporate clients: Give to Republican challengers in the 2012 election, and you’ll regret it come tax reform time, Politico’s Anna Palmer and Robin Bravender write.

  • Half of your Morning Line duo is moderating a panel at South by Southwest in Austin this month. Here are the details, tell all your friends.

NewsHour political desk assistant Alex Bruns and coordinating producer Linda J. Scott contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama delivers remarks at Nashua Community College in New Hampshire at 1:30 p.m. The president then travels to New York where he will attend four fund-raising events.

  • Mitt Romney holds a pair of rallies: one in Fargo, N.D., at 9:20 a.m. and another in Idaho Falls, Idaho at 3:10 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum banks some frequent flier miles, with morning rallies in Georgia at 8:15 a.m. in Dalton and 11:30 a.m. in Atlanta. In the evening Santorm will be on the west coast appearing in Spokane at 6 p.m. and Pasco at 9:30 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich is also in Georgia, addressing the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce at 8:15 a.m., attending the opening of the Cherokee County GOP Headquarters in Woodstock at 11:30 a.m., and holding a rally in Macon at 7 p.m.

  • Ron Paul has no public events scheduled.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers and @suddinengel.