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Romney accuses Santorum of (gasp!) appealing to Democrats

February 28, 2012 |  4:24 pm

Romney and Santorum signsMitt Romney has something of a home field advantage in Michigan, where he was raised and where his father was a popular governor. So it's more than a little weird to hear him complain that rival Rick Santorum is encouraging more people in the state to vote in Tuesday's GOP primary.

Romney's beef is that the Santorum campaign has been robo-calling Democrats and urging them to vote for Santorum. The state's GOP primary is open to all registered voters, and Democratic primaries for president and the Senate are uncontested. So why shouldn't they cross over to where all the fun is?

To Romney, that's cheating.

“I think Republicans have to recognize there’s a real effort to kidnap our primary process," Romney told reporters in Michigan, according to Politico. "And if we want Republicans to nominate the Republican who takes on Barack Obama, I need Republicans to get out and vote and say no to the, the dirty tricks of a desperate campaign.”

But the winner of the nomination will need more than just Republican votes to defeat the incumbent president, particularly in states such as Michigan that lean Democratic. The code name for this quality is "electability," and for a good portion of the campaign, that was one of Romney's main selling points.

Ironically, Romney has spent much of the campaign moving in the other direction, trying to prove to conservatives in the GOP that he isn't, you know, moderate. Santorum, meanwhile, has the opposite challenge: persuading Republicans that he can attract enough votes in the middle of the political spectrum to beat Obama.

That was the rationale for urging Democrats to vote, Santorum told reporters on the stump. According to my colleague Seema Mehta, Santorum said he was trying to prove that “we can attract voters we need to win states like Michigan."

The problem for Santorum is that the Democrats who vote for him Tuesday might simply prefer him over Romney, not Obama. Or worse, they might think Santorum would be easier for Obama to defeat in November than Romney would be.

That's the subtext to Romney's remarks. And it's worth noting that the "super PAC" backing Santorum presented two arguments to the Republican voters they called that are very different from the one Santorum offered Democrats. According to Politico's Alexander Burns, the GOP households were told that the healthcare reform that Romney backed in Massachusetts was a blueprint for Obama's healthcare reform, and that Romney once defended abortion rights.

Had Santorum's campaign delivered those messages to Democrats, Romney might not be in such a dogfight in his home state.

Polls close in Michigan at 5 p.m. Pacific, and in the less contentious Arizona primary (where Romney is expected to win easily) at 6 p.m. Pacific.

ALSO:

Santorum's true fiscal failures

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Separating church and state, Kennedy and Santorum

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

-- Jon Healey

Photo: A campaign bus for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney rolls past signs for rival Rick Santorum in Troy, Mich. Credit: Eric Gay / Associated Press

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