WASHINGTON -- The Mitt Romney campaign has spent the last few days attacking Rick Santorum for transgressions and missteps when it comes to supporting conservative candidates. Last week, it criticized the former senator for backing Arlen Specter during his Senate re-election campaign and presidential bid. A web ad followed Monday morning, reminding voters that Santorum had not only endorsed Romney's presidential campaign in 2008, but had called him the true conservative in the race.
The message was clear: Santorum was not only happy, in the past, to back moderates -- he was now actively campaigning against someone whose conservative credentials he once praised. The problem for Romney is that he's not the best person to deliver it.
The former Massachusetts governor's own moderate roots are well documented. And when he launched his first run for office, a 1994 Senate bid to unseat Ted Kennedy, he was dogged for, of all things, having supported Democrats and moderates in the past. Romney had given a $1,000 contribution to Douglas Delano Anderson, a Democratic Senate candidate in Utah. He also gave $250 donations to Reps. John J. LaFalce (D-N.Y.) and Richard Swett (D-N.H.).
The Romney campaign had an explanation ready for each of these donations. Anderson was a former neighbor and close friend. Swett was someone Romney knew personally. Rocky Anderson, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City who Romney endorsed in 2003, was someone with whom he'd forged close ties during the Olympic Games. In addition to the individual explanations, however, Romney offered a broader reason for why the donations didn't matter.
"I don't think they're mortal sins for Republicans to make contributions to good people and to their friends, irrespective of their party," he told reporters upon announcing his Senate bid, according to a February 3, 1994 Boston Herald article.
"I place my friendship above politics. I have not been intent on plotting a political resume," he declared elsewhere, according to a Boston Globe report from the day before.
Santorum has made similar statements when explaining away his support for Specter, arguing that he did so to aid a colleague from Pennsylvania and with an eye toward keeping Republican control of the Senate. As for his previous support for Romney, Santorum has pleaded for greater context, noting that the alternative candidate was John McCain. It's also worth noting that in 2006, Romney's Commonwealth Political Action Committee made three contributions to Santorum's unsuccessful Senate run, donating a total of $10,000.
Watch Romney's web ad: