2012 ELECTION

Santorum surges but scrutiny intensifies

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The contraception flap, according to Republican observers, is evidence of an undisciplined campaign that is already stumbling under the weight of intensifying scrutiny.

Polling suggests that significant numbers of voters still don't know Santorum well. And he may struggle to win over female voters in particular as they begin to pay more attention, according to Phil Musser, a GOP strategist who doesn't work for either campaign.

"I think in the next couple days, we could start to see some serious erosion with respect for female support for Santorum in the Republican primary," he said. "And that is a short-term challenge for him as we head into Michigan and beyond. But secondarily, one of my big questions is could he compete aggressively against President Obama if he's upside down on gender line?"

The Romney campaign countered on another front in a conference call at roughly the same time as Santorum's DeWine announcement. It was the third consecutive day the campaign hosted such a conference call, although each featured Romney supporters from different states.

John Sununu, a former White House chief of staff and a Romney supporter based in New Hampshire, described Santorum as "a candidate who loves spending and frankly supports liberal labor causes and liberal social causes, like giving voting rights to felons."

Actually, Santorum in the Senate supported restoring voting rights to felons once they had completed their sentence or parole. He shrugged off DeWine's defection, suggesting DeWine was upset by a Romney-friendly super PAC ad playing up the vote on felons.

Romney and his allies have flooded the airwaves in Michigan, which, along with Arizona, holds presidential primaries Feb. 28. Santorum's allies expanded their television presence in Michigan on Friday as well, raising the stakes for the looming contest in Romney's home state.

The pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund political action committee disclosed to campaign regulators on Friday that it had purchased $668,500 in Michigan TV ad time.

The group also spent about $135,000 on mail supportive of Santorum to the state's Republican voters. Despite being outspent so far, Santorum leads various recent polls in Michigan and Ohio.

Asked about the apparent shift, Sununu noted that Romney is holding a substantial delegate lead.

"This is a long slog," he said. "It's not going to be decided early. Nothing's changed in terms of strategy or tactics as we move forward."

Michigan-based Republican operative Jeff Timmer, a former state GOP executive director, is among those who doubt Santorum's staying power.

"Santorum really hasn't gone through much of a public vetting process outside of Iowa," he said. "There will be a reality check. But I don't expect that he will go away."

 

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