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Romney bounce back plan: paint Santorum as a DC insider

The Romney campaign has been quick to respond to media outlets following Rick Santorum's sweeping victory in the three Republican primary votes held Tuesday. Mitt Romney's staff is reminding reporters that it's all about delegates, and despite being a nice guy, the former Pennsylvania senator has spent his entire career inside the beltway and is not experienced enough in handling issues that arise in the private economy.

The Romney campaign did some preemptive vetting Monday to downplay the votes held yesterday in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, and Mike Allen reports that Romney's staff has sent a similar message following Santorum's sweep Tuesday night:

“It’s about delegates. We could have made the decision to spend money, resources [in Colo. and Minn.], but we had to be pretty tough-minded about it -- just to be focused on the delegates, and on Super Tuesday [March 6]. We could have run television, run radio, or spent more time. You can’t do everything. You gotta run your race. We’ll wake up tomorrow, focused on winning Arizona, Michigan, Ohio, Super Tuesday. Hats off to Santorum: It’s a really good night for Santorum. It’s a really BAD night for Newt.

“All of Santorum’s and Obama’s and Gingrich’s definition is Washington-based experience. Santorum’s livelihood is still dependent on Washington. Same with Newt. Same with Obama. It’s going to be a very clear contrast with somebody that’s never lived in a Washington a day. YOU’RE GOING TO HEAR A LOT ABOUT THAT. It works well against Newt. It works well against Santorum. And it works well against Obama.”

The Romney campaign's reassurance does not come off as too believable considering all the momentum and coverage that has returned to Santorum's once left-for-dead campaign, however, the pledge to up attacks on Santorum's time in the beltway seems to make sense and perhaps should have been applied earlier.

“I think we’ll see differences in approach that will be explored. Rick Santorum tonight was fairly aggressive in his contrasts, and I think we’ll see differences,” Romney Campaign Senior Advisor Stuart Stevens told CNN of Santorum Tuesday night. “Look, I just don’t think it’s a time when people are looking to Washington to solve problems with Washington."

By avoiding most opportunities to publicly take on issues of faith, self-aware of the negatives that could result in drawing attention to his own religion which is perhaps more openly mocked than any other religion in America, Romney has allowed Santorum to monopolize the conservative argument on social issues. As fights have broken out in the last week regarding HHS vs. Catholic Church, Planned Parenthood vs. Susan G. Komen Foundation and most recently a federal appeals court vs the 7 million voters who supported Prop 8, Santorum has seized on the enthusiasm suddenly erupting from the conservative base.

Comments from his campaign reflect what must be Romney's strategy moving forward; shift the campaign focus back to the issues which galvanized conservatives in 2010 like growth in the size of government, ousting self-described conservatives who vote for unprecedented spending in Washington, and looking to successful private sector executives to solve the failures of career politicians.

One last thing…
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