Is Rick Santorum cheating in the Michigan primary? Mitt Romney is implying that’s the case. Mr. Romney is complaining that the Santorum campaign is trying to recruit Democrats in the Wolverine State to vote for the former Pennsylvania senator.
What’s his evidence? Well, it’s true that Mr. Santorum and his associated super PAC appear to be paying for robocalls to Democratic voters. These calls urge recipients to cross the proverbial aisle and vote for Santorum in order to defeat Romney, who opposed the auto bailout.
“It’s a new low in this campaign,” said Romney.
Is it? Well, Michigan’s primary is open, meaning it’s perfectly legal for Democrats to vote on the GOP ballot. Plus, the statewide race is so close that Democratic votes could make a difference.
According to a new survey from Public Policy Polling, Santorum leads among Democrats who plan to vote in the GOP race by 47 to 10 percent. Such voters also make up a substantial eight percent slice of the likely GOP primary electorate, according to PPP.
“The big question now is whether those folks will actually bother to show up and vote,” concludes PPP.
So in that sense, Romney might just be whining. Politics ain’t beanbag, as pundits love to say, even though they have no idea what “beanbag” is. Hard-nosed tactics can be necessary to win.
That said there are some aspects of the calls which, while not illegal, do seem to be deceptive. For one, they kind of glide past the issue of who’s paying for them. At the end of the call paid for by Santorum’s campaign, the man reading says, in the required disclosure line, “This call is supported by hard-working Democratic men and women and paid for by Rick Santorum for president.”
At least, that’ s what it says on the copy of the call captured by a Michigan voter and posted online at Talking Points Memo.
At the end of the call funded by a pro-Santorum super PAC, the reader – a woman this time – says simply, “Paid for by Freedom’s Defense Fund.” Most Michigan voters aren’t going to know who that organization is linked to.
Plus, the ads mislead due to what they leave out. Both are centered on the fact that Romney opposed the auto bailout – a big negative in Michigan. The call from the Santorum campaign adds that Romney did support the financial bailout, while appearing willing to bury GM and Chrysler.
“That was a slap in the face to every Michigan voter,” says the robocall.
What the call does not say is that Santorum opposed the auto bailout, too. He has defended this position in Michigan by noting that unlike Romney he also opposed the financial bailout, so he’s the consistent conservative, while Romney just didn’t like Detroit. But if Santorum included that context on the call, we’re pretty sure most of the Democrats on the other end would just hang up.
Will the calls work? It’s possible. But Santorum may have given Romney a ready-made excuse if he loses in Michigan, while muddying his own message, according to conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin.
“In his anxiousness to try and pull in a few Democratic voters, Santorum has undercut his own self-description as the most Republican of the Republican candidates and conveyed a certain desperation,” Rubin wrote on her Right Turn blog Tuesday.