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AdWatch: Santorum ad lumps Romney, Obama together

By Henry C. Jackson
Associated Press / January 18, 2012
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WASHINGTON—TITLE: "Easy Answer"

LENGTH: 30 seconds

AIRING: On South Carolina broadcast and cable stations.

KEY IMAGES: A series of jarring noises that sound like slamming metal doors punctuate alternating images of President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. A male narrator intones darkly as he reads the script addressing Romney's record.

"Obama supported the Wall Street bailouts. So did Romney," the narrator says. "Obama gave us radical Obamacare -- that was based on Romneycare. Obama's a liberal on social issues. Romney once bragged he's even more liberal than Ted Kennedy on social issues.

"Why would we ever vote for someone who is just like Obama?" he continues. "When we can unite around Rick Santorum, and beat Obama."

Footage of Santorum speaking at a campaign rally follows, as he says he approves the ad's message.

ANALYSIS: Sapped of the momentum he picked up after a near-win in the Iowa caucuses, Santorum faces a make-or-break moment in South Carolina. If he's going to have any shot at the Republican nomination, he'll have to stop Romney, currently cruising after back-to-back wins in the first two contests of the presidential nominating cycle.

Santorum's method is blunt force, portraying Romney and Obama as similar on a host of issues. It's a shot at Romney's chief vulnerability with Republican primary voters -- the notion that he's more moderate than the other candidates and too similar to Obama.

"Easy Answer" comes days after a group of conservative activists called on voters to coalesce around Santorum as the best conservative alternative to Romney. The ad could be read on one level as an effort to build on that affirmation, though Santorum is trying to do it by picking apart Romney rather than highlighting his own conservative bona fides.

The ad overreaches in asserting that Romney "bragged" about being more liberal: When running against former Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994, Romney did try to portray himself as a more moderate candidate and wrote to a group of gay Republicans that he wanted to make "equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern" and do better on that issue than Kennedy. But he never boasted of being more liberal than Kennedy and currently supports a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Two other assertions are more accurate: Romney has said he reluctantly backed the Wall Street bailout. And a health care plan Romney implemented in Massachusetts as governor was part of the model for Obama's national plan, now deeply reviled by GOP primary voters.

Santorum's ad also strips any nuance from Romney's positions, though. While Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts is similar to Obama's, he also says he would repeal the president's national plan and that he doesn't believe the Massachusetts version can work on a national level. While he has run as a moderate in the past, particularly against Kennedy, Romney has emphasized he is an anti-abortion candidate and has said he would govern that way.

Santorum's ad lands in South Carolina, which has a well-earned reputation as the place where the Republican race for president gets more vicious. It is the most directly negative ad Santorum has run and one of the harshest attacks on Romney by any of the candidates this election season.

It's also a reminder of the state of play: Romney is closing in on the Republican nomination after just two contests, and the other candidates know it.

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