New Romney ad: Who's going to drive you home tonight, Michigan?

A visual reminder to the locals that he’s got a Michigan automotive pedigree that Senator Sweater Vest can’t match. Surprised to see him so positive here? Don’t be. The attacks are coming:

The Pennsylvania Republican will “be defined by two things,” the [Romney] advisor said.

The first is a comparison to Barack Obama: “He’s never run anything,” said the advisor. The Pennyslvanian’s experience is limited to roles as a legislator and legislative staffer. “The biggest thing he ever ran is his Senate office,” he siad.

The second is a challenge to Santorum’s Washington experience.

“They’re going to hit him very hard on earmarks, lobbying, voting to raise the federal debt limit five times,” said the advisor. “The story of Santorum is going to be told over the next few weeks in a big way.”

I don’t know. Lack of executive experience and Beltway insider-ism are two different things, but when you’re pushing them both simultaneously, I wonder if they won’t inadvertently cancel each other out. The attack on his experience is essentially an argument that he’s too green to run the ferocious federal machine efficiently … except that, as a two-term senator, he actually knows how the federal machine works better than Romney does. I think they’re better off trying to tear him down for being a big-spending RINO — and indeed, that attack’s coming too.

You’re also starting to see closer scrutiny of Santorum in conservative media commensurate with his national surge. Go read Philip Klein on RS’s “big-government parochialism” — when it came to steel tariffs, blocking “right to work” laws, and of course earmarks, he was a true blue Pennsylvanian — and Conn Carroll arguing that Santorum’s paternalism makes him a (shudder) “David Brooks Republican” prone to government social engineering efforts. (Er, can the mastermind behind RomneyCare really make that argument?) An interesting thought experiment: If, if, if we end up in a brokered convention with most delegates split between Romney and Santorum, would RS’s paternalistic streak tip Ron Paul’s delegates towards Mitt? Remember, Romney and Paul are on good terms and Paul’s said in the past that he likes the fact that Mitt has a business background. Santorum, as a passionate culture warrior, will alienate libertarians more than Romney will — unless Mitt lets Santorum drag him so far to the right on social issues that he’s not only compromised in the general but potentially compromised among moderates and libertarians if/when this becomes a two-man race. He’s not going to out-social-con Santorum so I don’t know why he bothers trying. Hit him on his fiscal heresies, over and over.

According to Rasmussen, Santorum now leads in Michigan by three among likely voters. That’s good news for Romney given yesterday’s hair-raising PPP poll putting the margin at 15. The bad news is that Santorum’s base seems to be more committed than Romney’s is, and the really bad news is that the more Gingrich becomes an afterthought in these races, the greater the risk that his money will dry up and he’ll be forced to drop out. Byron York sees Arizona and Michigan as a pair of one-on-one contests between Mitt and Newt and Mitt and Rick, respectively, but if Romney’s destined to lose in Michigan, I wonder if he’d actually prefer to lose in Arizona too in order to keep Gingrich in the game. Anything he can do to stave off the consolidation of the conservative vote is good for him; his nightmare scenario, I think, is that Santorum wins big in Michigan on February 28 while Newt gets crushed in both states, whereupon Gingrich is suddenly a nonfactor the following week on Super Tuesday while the press is buzzing about Santorum. Even the Romney Super PAC death star would be tested by that.