Santorum targets Romney 'negative attack machine'

February 15, 2012 - 3:25 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — TITLE: "Rombo"

LENGTH: 30 seconds.

AIRING: On broadcast and cable in Michigan.

KEY IMAGES: A Mitt Romney doppelganger armed with what looks like an assault rifle enters a warehouse and looks around shiftily. When a cardboard cutout of Rick Santorum pops out from behind a pillar, the Romney lookalike opens fire, spraying mud all around the cut out but not hitting the former Pennsylvania senator's image. The Romney lookalike continues to pace, growing more and more annoyed as he fires in vain at other Santorums that pop out. As the ad closes, the Romney lookalike tries to unjam his gun but it backfires, spitting a dollop of mud on the front of his crisp white shirt.

While the action plays out, a narrator laments that Mitt Romney's "negative attack machine is back on full throttle. This time Romney's firing his mud at Rick Santorum. Romney and his super PAC have spent a staggering $20 million brutally attacking fellow Republicans. Why? Because Romney's trying to hide from his big government Romneycare, and his support for job-killing cap and trade. And in the end Mitt Romney's ugly attacks are going to backfire."

Two lines of text appear during the ad. One, with a citation to an article on RushLimbaugh.com, says: "Romney Advisor Admits Romneycare Was Blueprint for Obamacare." The other says: "Romney's negative Ads Could Cost Him With Voters," with a citation to a USA Today article.

ANALYSIS: After going 3-for-3 in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses and Missouri's non-binding primary, as well as surging in national polls, Santorum knows what's likely in store for him: a frontal assault from Romney, his main rival for the GOP presidential nomination. Santorum is trying to pre-empt any negative lines of attack with this cinematic and comical ad designed to make any such effort by the former Massachusetts governor appear desperate and ineffective.

Santorum's ad stands out because it's a rare attempt at humor in what has been an expensive and nasty campaign ad war. His campaign is hoping the goofy image of Romney running around with a mud-filled rifle will stick with voters.

Romney's campaign has been aggressive in in hitting at his opponents in the race. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who, for a time was Romney's chief rival, was on the receiving end of millions of dollars of attack ads in Iowa and South Carolina. Santorum, though, has not been the focus of a sustained media blitz by either Romney's campaign or the so-called super PAC that supports him.

Besides labeling Romney a mud-slinger, Santorum's ad takes two questionable swipes by asserting that he has walked away from the health care plan he put in place in Massachusetts and his past support of cap-and-trade environmental policy.

While the narrator says Romney is "trying to hide from his big-government Romneycare" that's not completely true. Since the GOP race began, Romney has walked a delicate line by refusing to apologize for the health care plan he implemented while governor and distancing himself from a similar health care plan President Barack Obama's signed into law in 2010.

On the anti-pollution issue, Romney, as governor, supported a regional cap-and-trade program with a coalition of Northeastern states to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for climate change and urged Congress to cap them. But he ultimately pulled out of the agreement, saying it would hurt businesses and raise energy costs.

The main goal of Santorum's ad, though, seems to be to make Romney look bad and defensive simply because of his heavy reliance on negative ads. That's unlikely to stop Romney and groups that support him from attacking Santorum, particularly if he keeps pace with Romney in the polls. Santorum's hope, though, is that the ad will dilute the effects of such efforts.