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by
Bryan Preston

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February 6, 2012 - 11:38 am

Just throwing this out there. Team Romney has started attacking Rick Santorum ahead of tomorrow’s three GOP primary contests. Santorum has responded with a press release crowing about the new attacks:

Verona, PA – Today Mitt Romney’s well financed seek and destroy attack machine turned its sights on Rick Santorum. And the reason is clear. Recent polling data strongly suggests that Rick Santorum is by far Romney’s most significant opponent.

Polling results just released today by Magellan Strategies BR show Rick Santorum beating Romney in Missouri. Polling results by Public Policy Polling, also show Rick Santorum beating Romney in Minnesota, and catching up to Romney in Colorado. Polls earlier last week showed Rick Santorum ahead of Romney in Missouri and Ohio.

And according to a Rasmussen survey released yesterday, while Mitt Romney loses to Barack Obama by 4 points in a potential matchup, Rick Santorum is ahead of Obama 45% to 41%. This last piece of information is particularly damaging to Romney because it destroys his argument that he is the strongest opponent to defeat Obama. It also reveals that a trusted conservative is better positioned to defeat Obama than a moderate who agrees with Obama on big government healthcare mandates, government bailouts, and radical cap and trade initiatives.

There’s much truth in all of that, but there may be less to it all than meets the eye. Polls are ephemeral, especially polls taken on the heels of the State of the Union address, which are bound to help the incumbent who delivers them. Santorum is competitive in the upcoming trio of states, but none produces actual delegates for the convention. They’re non-binding or, in Missouri’s case, a beauty contest weeks ahead of the state’s actual caucus. So what’s the point of attacking Santorum, as Romney clearly is?

Newt Gingrich did a very fine job of damaging himself in that odd press conference Saturday night. He has lost the plot of defeating Obama and has returned to “revenge candidacy,” while Santorum is picking up a bit of steam as the non-Romney candidate. Getting attacked helps Santorum build up a bit more steam, but he’s still underfunded and understaffed everywhere — but like Gingrich, not actually on the ballot everywhere. But it’s Gingrich, not Santorum, who is in second place by delegates and still in first place in some national polls. It’s Gingrich who has a major financial backer in Sheldon Adelson, but we learned over the weekend that Adelson would switch and financially support Romney if Gingrich drops out. Adelson hasn’t lost the plot. But Romney doesn’t really have that much of a need to attack Gingrich right now. The Romney team’s thinking may be, let Gingrich destroy himself, meanwhile, turn the guns on Santorum to build him up and push Gingrich off to the side in the national conversation.

Bryan Preston has been a leading conservative blogger and opinionator since founding his first blog in 2001. Bryan is a military veteran, worked for NASA, was a founding blogger and producer at Hot Air, was producer of the Laura Ingraham Show and, most recently before joining PJM, was Communications Director of the Republican Party of Texas.
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