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Romney Narrows in on Santorum’s Voting History

Even though Rick Santorum has billed himself as the conservative in the GOP race, he has a history of big government votes during his time in the Senate that are starting to get attention from conservative bloggers. At the Washington Examiner, Phil Klein ticks off a few controversial votes that Santorum will no doubt be forced to explain in the coming weeks:

To his credit, Santorum did not support the kind of mandate and subsidize approach to health care as Romney, but as senator, he still voted like a big government Republican on many occasions. Some of this had to do with being a loyal soldier during the Bush era, when he backed the Medicare prescription drug plan and No Child Left Behind. But a lot of it had to do with his parochialism.

As a senator from Pennsylvania, Santorum took earmarks, pushed a support program for dairy farmers, sided with unions and backed steel tariffs. In these instances, when free market principles clashed with local concerns, he abandoned limited government conservatives.

Santorum has been blasting Mitt Romney as a supporter of big government, but his own history complicates that line of attack. More than that, his voting record provides plenty of fodder for Romney’s two-pronged attack strategy, which BuzzFeed detailed today:

In an interview with BuzzFeed, a Romney advisor offered details of the campaign’s coming two-front attack, which the campaign expects will be echoed by the Super PAC, which cannot legally coordinate its message, but which has already bought hundreds of thousands of dollars of airtime in key states. …

The first is a comparison to Barack Obama: “[Santorum’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.”

Even though the chief argument against Santorum is that his staunch social conservatism would alienate independent voters in a general election, Romney can’t officially make that case during the primaries. His only option at this point is to try to chip away at Santorum’s conservative credentials. Romney won’t be able to convince primary voters he’s more of a conservative than the former Pennsylvania senator. But by dampening conservative enthusiasm for Santorum, Romney might be able to a) reduce conservative voter turnout, and b) convince some conservatives to take a less emotional look at Santorum’s general election chances, and potentially choose Romney as the more electable candidate.

As we’ve seen time and time again in this race, Republican primary voters only start gravitating to Romney after his main rival candidates have had their conservative credentials tarnished in some way. If Romney wants the nomination, he’ll have to do the same to Santorum, but he’ll also need to tread carefully.


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