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Romney Campaign turns focus to Santorum

Yesterday we wrote about Rick Santorum's rising support among conservative commentators and polls conducted in the three states holding Republican primaries today. As Republican voters head to the polls in Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota, the Romney campaign has begun to shift the focus of their aggression away from Newt Gingrich and towards Santorum.

Former presidential candidate, now Romney campaign co-chair, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty blasted Santorum in a statement released Monday, labeling him as "an ardent defender of pork-barrel spending":

"Rick Santorum is a nice guy, but he is simply not ready to be President.  Plus, he wants Minnesota conservatives to believe he's as conservative as they are, but he's not.  As a U.S. Senator, he was a leading earmarker and pork-barrel spender.  He described himself as ‘very proud’ of the billions of dollars in pork-barrel projects he championed, and promised to defend the wasteful spending. Even in the face of crushing federal debt, Rick Santorum voted for the infamous ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’ That type of leadership will not help us rein in government and slash the unprecedented federal debt.”

Newt Gingrich had emerged as Romney's primary foe in the time between the end of the New Hampshire primary to Nevada, but as Santorum said the night of the Silver State's caucuses, Gingrich "had his opportunity." The Hill reports on the Romney campaign scaling back efforts in states Monday where Santorum is surging, and how the map moving forward may be in better favor for the former Senator as oppose to Gingrich:

"Romney campaigned in Colorado Monday, a state he is expected to win. He canceled a previously scheduled trip to Minnesota, citing travel difficulties, which observers saw as a sign he’s downplaying expectations in the state. The former Pennsylvania senator spent the morning in Minnesota and headed to Colorado in the afternoon.

Gingrich, meanwhile, is biding his time before Super Tuesday, the March 6 round of primary contests that includes Southern states that are favorable to the former Speaker, including Tennessee, Oklahoma and his home state of Georgia.

But for Gingrich, March 6 could come too late — if Santorum racks up wins in the interim and converts those wins into a surge in the polls, he could edge out Gingrich as the conservative alternative to Romney."

Perhaps in preemptive defense, Romney's political director Rich Beeson says in a memo released to the press Tuesday that tonight's contests are a political sideshow and Romney is the man moving forward:

 

"It is difficult to see what Governor Romney’s opponents can do to change the dynamics of the race in February. No delegates will be awarded on February 7 -- Colorado and Minnesota hold caucuses with nonbinding preference polls, and the Missouri primary is purely a beauty contest. Except for the Maine and Wyoming nonbinding caucuses running through February, the next contests are on February 28 in states where Governor Romney is strong. Arizona’s 29 delegates will be bound in a winner-take-all contest. Michigan, the state where Governor Romney grew up, binds 30 delegates."

POLITICO reports that the Romney campaign elaborates in an email:

"• No delegates are being selected today. The delegate count tomorrow morning will remain the same as it is today. Gov. Romney has a significant delegate lead – he is the only candidate to have earned delegates in every available contest.

• Missouri is strictly a beauty contest (see ABC News: “Why Missouri Is Holding a ‘Meaningless’ Primary”). The primary being held today is completely divorced from any delegate allocation, and Missouri will hold an entirely separate caucus next month. We plan to compete in the actual Missouri contest in March.

• As our campaign has said from the outset, Mitt Romney is not going to win every contest.  John McCain lost 19 states in 2008, and we expect our opponents will notch a few wins, too.  But unlike the other candidates, our campaign has the resources and organization to keep winning over the long run.  A winning conservative message, hard work, and old-fashioned delegate math will win this race for Governor Romney."

The Romney campaign has sent out Santorum’s 2008 endorsement of Romney, in which Santorum called him a conservative, according to The Boston Globe. A summary of Santorum's "False Attacks on Massachusetts Health Care" has also been posted on MittRomney.com.

One last thing…
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