Romney blasts Santorum for robocalling Democrats in open MI primary

posted at 1:20 pm on February 28, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Is courting Democrats in an open primary “outrageous,” or simply good politics? Rick Santorum’s campaign funded robocalls to get Michigan Democrats to come to the state’s open primary today, attacking Romney as “Massachusetts Mitt” and slamming Romney for opposing the auto bailout — which, as Chris Cillizza points out, Santorum also opposed:

Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign is actively seeking the support of Democrats in Tuesday’s Michigan primary, running a robocall that sounds oddly like one that would be run by an organized labor group.

“Michigan Democrats can vote in the Republican primary on Tuesday,” the narrator says in a copy of the automated call to Democratic voters that was initially obtained by Talking Points Memo. “Why is it so important? (Mitt) Romney supported the bailout for his Wall Street billionaire buddies, but opposed the auto bailout. That was a slap in the face to every Michigan worker. And we’re not going to let Romney get away with it.”

Then the ad closes with: “This call is supported by hard-working Democratic men and women and paid for by Rick Santorum for President.” …

It’s also an odd message considering that Santorum also opposed the auto bailout. Santorum has tried to differentiate himself on the issue by noting that he has a blanket no-bailout policy, while Romney supported the Wall Street bailout but not the auto bailout.

The Romney campaign responded last night with an e-mailed statement calling the robocalls “outrageous,” and that it proves that Santorum has “moved beyond just ‘taking one for the team;’ he is now willing to wear the other team’s jersey if he thinks it will get him more votes.”  Romney himself made TV appearances today condemning Santorum for “teaming up with the Obama people” and calling it “a new low in this campaign.” But this seems way over the top, even if you’re inclined to share some of Romney’s outrage:

Flanked by volunteers at his campaign headquarters, Romney conceded that — as recent polls suggest — Santorum might win and pointed to the Santorum robo-calls encouraging Democratic crossover voters to turn out in the open primary.
“I think the hardest thing about predicting what’s going to happen today is whether Senator Santorum’s effort to call Democrat households and tell them to come out and vote against Mitt Romney is going to be successful or not. I think Republicans have to recognize there’s a real effort to kidnap our primary process. 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 dirty tricks of a desperate campaign,” the former Massachusetts governor said.

Romney encouraged volunteers working the phones to get Republicans to turn out for him instead. “We want this to be a process where Republicans choose our Republican nominee. We don’t want the Democrats to choose who they think is the easiest person to run against,” he added.

However, Michigan’s primary is open, which means that Democrats will make up some percentage of the vote.  In the 2008 primary, they comprised 7% of the vote despite the fact that Democrats had their own primary at the same time.  Democrats might be inclined to turn out in the same amount or more this time — so why not court them?  Kevin McCullough reminds the Romney campaign that the idea is to get Democrats to vote for Republicans at some point:

He’s expressing this morning his “outrage” and “disgust” at a concept that signals something very important to anyone watching the race from a general election perspective.

Earth to Mitt, Earth to Mitt: There are not enough pure Republican voters in the country for you to win a general election. Reaching out to Democrats isn’t only the savvy thing to do from a campaign strategy in the primary, it also makes a heck of a lot of sense in laying the groundwork for disaffected Democrats and Independents in the general election.

Mitt’s team feels sucker-punched because they have had almost no forethought on the Michigan race almost from the get-go. They weren’t paying attention when they lost Iowa. They weren’t paying attention when they lost Minnesota. They weren’t paying attention when they lost Missouri. They’re not paying attention now that they may lost Michigan, or that they are running a huge risk in possible losing Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

The Team Romney scorched-earth, spend big, and no-one-challenge-us, mentality has not brought about an especially strong argument for why people should vote for their candidate.

The Boss Emeritus writes that Santorum is playing by the open-primary rules, and that Romney needs to toughen up:

Inconvenient truth: There’s nothing “dirty” and there’s no “trick” in playing by the rules set by the states. Seventeen states have open primaries. (Think the rules should be changed? Go for it. But not in the middle of the game.) One of those 17 states with open primaries is Massachusetts. And among the many voters who have crossed over to influence the outcome of an open primary is…Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney’s longtime argument is that he, not Santorum, is best equipped to appeal to the very Reagan Democrats that Rick Santorum is wooing.

Yet, in the state he considers his “home state” and where he has desperately outspent Santorum by 3-to-1, tonight’s outcome is “too close to call.”

If Romney can’t put away Santorum and can’t handle a run-of-the-mill robocall, how is he going to handle Team Obama’s Chicago goons and the Democrat deacons of truly dirty tricks?

Even the normally Romney-sympathetic Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post mostly agrees:

Aside from some strategic ambiguity as to the origin of the ad, there is nothing legally or even politically wrong with going after Democratic votes. The primary is not limited to registered Republicans. Just as GOP candidates in New Hampshire appealed to independent voters who were allowed to vote in that contest, it is perfectly acceptable to try to maximize a candidate’s votes by corralling Democrats. If the GOP wants a closed primary, it can have one.

That said, it’s rather embarrassing to be caught snuggling up to pro-union Democrats since Santorum characterizes himself to Romney’sright. The robocalls are either trying to confuse voters that Santorum supported the auto bailout (which he did not), or an admission that Santorum is perceived as the weaker candidate (Democrats, come vote for me to help you in November!). It sure does muddy his message, which is that he’s the one with the bolder contrasts to go up against Obama.

This is an inside-baseball story that is not likely to influence actual voters today (other than to inform some Democrats that the ad is from Santorum and not actual Democrats). Moreover, the number of mischief-making voters who are really going to bother to vote, I imagine, is quite small.

The impact of the story, if any, is to give Romney an excuse if he loses in Michigan and to muddle Santorum’s message. In his anxiousness to try to 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.

It has that kind of sense to me, too.  The ad doesn’t cross over into the kind of class-warfare attacks leveled by Romney and Newt Gingrich at each other a few weeks ago, and pointing out that Romney supported the Wall Street bailout while opposing the auto bailout doesn’t reach that level of Occupy rhetoric — even if it is a bit hypocritical, considering Santorum’s opposition to the auto bailout, too.  It’s hardly “outrageous” or a dirty trick, though, and it’s certainly not “kidnapping” a primary that’s already open to Democratic voters. Until Santorum’s rise, I doubt that the Romney team saw an open primary as a bad thing, anyway.

What do you think? Take the poll:


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Comment pages: 1 3

Comment pages: 1 3