Huffpost Politics

Wisconsin Primary 2012: Candidate Ads Call Rick Santorum Ideas 'Crazy', Mitt Romney 'A Disaster'

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MILWAUKEE -- On Wisconsin TV, Rick Santorum is getting pummeled as someone who doesn't understand the economy. On the radio, he's portrayed as squishy on funding for women's health care provider Planned Parenthood. In mailings, Santorum has "crazy ideas" that the state's Republican voters are asked to reject in their presidential primary next week.

Yet again, the White House hopeful finds himself on the short end of a lopsided ad battle with rival Mitt Romney and his deep-pocketed allies. Santorum and his supporters are fighting back by calling the prospect of a Romney nomination a "disaster," but the counterpunches are hardly landing with the same power.

Wisconsin's primary is deemed the most competitive of the three elections on Tuesday, drawing far more interest than races in Maryland and Washington, D.C. That's translated into nearly $4 million in ad spending in Wisconsin so far, three-fourths of it from Romney and the Restore Our Future super PAC trying to secure the former Massachusetts governor the nomination.

The yawning gap in ad spending tracks with a pattern seen throughout the race. Of the more than $56 million spent during the GOP nomination contest by the three leading super PACs – those backing Romney, Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – three-quarters of it was by the pro-Romney group, according to an analysis of federal finance data by The Associated Press. Restore Our Future has doubled the ad spending of Romney's own campaign.

A barrage of negative ads targets Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator seen as Romney's last true threat before he can focus fully on a fall campaign against President Barack Obama.

Restore Our Future, by far the biggest spender in Wisconsin, is using snippets of Santorum's recent remarks on the campaign trail to cast him as unprepared to handle the nation's economy.

"On the economy, Rick Santorum says: `I don't care what the unemployment rate's going to be – it doesn't matter to me,'" a TV ad from the group opens before criticizing him for voting to raise the country's debt limit and supporting "wasteful spending" while a senator.

Mash-ups of past comments also permeate the pro-Romney group's radio spots, where Santorum ties himself in knots explaining why he backed bills with federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the federal No Child Left Behind education law conservatives loathe. "Twenty years in Washington changed Santorum's principles," a narrator says in the commercials airing hourly on Wisconsin's dominant right-leaning radio station.

Another gets in digs at Santorum before heralding Romney as a business executive who turned around struggling companies and stepped in to "rescue" a scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics.

Mailboxes are getting flooded, too. Restore Our Future tags Santorum as a Washington insider who "puts his crazy ideas ahead of our best interests." It cites votes to support maligned spending projects like one in Alaska ridiculed as the "Bridge to Nowhere" and legislation restoring voting rights to felons, describing him as an ally of Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a Democratic senator from New York. Santorum has often complained that his voting law stance is taken out of context because nothing would happen until after they complete sentences, probation and parole.

On the flip side, the pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund questions Romney's resolve on conservative principles and his record as a governor. In a TV commercial set to flashing, emergency-type lights and grainy pictures of Romney, the ad says job growth in Massachusetts lagged the nation during his tenure and calls a health law he signed "a massive state health care takeover" that served as the blueprint for Obama's health care law.

"We just can't trust Mitt Romney," the 30-second ad concludes.

Meanwhile, Santorum's campaign is paying for a radio ad going after his competitor for enacting "radical Romneycare" and endorsing the controversial Wall Street bank bailout during the height of the economic crisis.

"I'm not going to pull any punches here. If Romney gets the nomination, it's a disaster for every conservative and tea party supporter," a narrator says to ominous music. "Why? Because on issues that matter to us the most, Romney has sided with Obama every time."


Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wis., and Jack Gillum in Washington contributed to this report.

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