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Santorum Shows He'll Fire Back In Michigan Ad Wars

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney took the stage in a January presidential debate in Florida. They'll meet again Wednesday night in Arizona, which holds its primary on Feb. 28, the same day as the crucial Michigan contest. (AP)

The rise of Rick Santorum in the race for the Republican presidential nomination hasn't exactly gone unnoticed by rival Mitt Romney or his friends. Turn on a TV in Michigan this weekend, and chances are you won't have to wait long to see an ad attacking the former Pennsylvania senator.

"America is drowning in national debt," a narrator intones in one ad, a product of Romney's campaign. "Yet Rick Santorum supported billions in earmarks."

Meanwhile, the superPAC that backs Romney, called Restore Our Future, is behind an ad that focuses on who has "the right experience."

"Romney rescued the Olympics," the ad says. "Santorum was in Washington, voting to raise the debt limit five times."

But unlike the other GOP candidates who at one time or another emerged to take on Romney, Santorum and the superPAC supporting him seem to have the resources to fight back. The battle is taking place on the airwaves in Michigan, which along with Arizona holds its presidential primary Feb. 28.

Economic Attacks

It's no coincidence that both the Romney and the Restore our Future ads go after Santorum for his fiscal views. Unlike former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Santorum has no real personal baggage.

But after 16 years in Congress, he does have a lengthy voting record. Paul Freedman, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, says it gives Romney plenty of ammunition, especially on economic issues, which he's been using in his ads.

"We see images of budget deficits, deficit clocks. We see counters counting off the number of bills that, according to the Club for Growth, Rick Santorum supported that included increases in spending," Freedman says. "So we see this concerted effort by Romney, through his ads, to make the case that Santorum's not the real conservative when it comes to fiscal issues."

But Santorum and his backers have been putting up a fight.

A Focus On Values

The superPAC that supports Santorum — the Red, White and Blue Fund — has reportedly bought $650,000 worth of air time in Michigan, to augment the $400,000 the Santorum campaign has spent in the state. While that's far less than Romney and his superPAC are spending, it allows Santorum's backers to run ads touting his values — such as one that calls him a "proven conservative."

"Rick Santorum: Father. Husband. A champion for life. The leader with a bold plan to restore America's greatness," it says.

Another ad on the air in Michigan features lots of pictures of Santorum with his family. While that's almost a campaign cliche, Freedman says it serves Santorum well.

"He's telling people that he is a family man. He's telling people that he has family values and he's making connections to the people of Michigan — the Michigan Republican primary voters — on the basis of these values and on the basis of his connection to his family," Freedman says.

Of course, Romney is also a family man trying to connect with Michigan's primary voters. We'll find out Feb. 28 who does the better job.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

In this year's GOP primary fight, you can track the rise and fall of candidates in the polls by watching how their superPACs behave. Now, as the race starts to get tighter between former Governor Mitt Romney and former Senator Rick Santorum, their superPACs are ramping up with aggressive ad campaigns in Michigan. That state, along with Arizona, holds it presidential primary a week from Tuesday.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The rise of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has not exactly gone unnoticed by Mitt Romney or his friends. Turn on a TV in Michigan this weekend, and chances are you won't have to wait very long to see an ad like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: America is drowning in national debt yet Rick Santorum supported billions in earmarks.

RICK SANTORUM: I had a lot of earmarks. In fact, I'm very proud of all the earmarks I've put in bills, 'cause I think...

NAYLOR: That ad is a product of Romney's campaign. Meanwhile, the superPAC that backs Romney, Restore Our Future, is behind this ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Who has the right experience? Mitt Romney helped create thousands of jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Rick Santorum is called the ultimate Washington insider.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Romney rescued the Olympics.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Santorum was in Washington, voting to raise the debt limit five times.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Romney vetoed 800 times and turned a deficit into a surplus without raising taxes.

NAYLOR: It is no coincidence that both the Romney and the Restore Our Future ads go after Santorum for his fiscal views. Unlike Newt Gingrich, Santorum has no real personal baggage. But after 16 years in the Senate and Congress, he does have a lengthy voting record.

Paul Freedman, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, says it gives Romney plenty of ammunition, especially on economic issues, which he's been using in his ads.

PAUL FREEDMAN: We see images of budget deficits, deficit clocks. We see counters counting off the number of bills that, according to the Club for Growth, Rick Santorum supported that included increases in spending. And so, we see this concerted effort by Romney through his ads to make the case that Santorum is not the real conservative when it comes to fiscal issues.

NAYLOR: Santorum and his backers have been fighting back. The superPAC that supports him, the Red White and Blue Fund, has reportedly purchased some $650,000 worth of air time in Michigan, to augment the $400,000 the Santorum campaign has spent in the state. While that's far less than Romney and his superPAC are spending in Michigan, it allows Santorum's backers to run ads like these.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Obama's reckless agenda must be stopped and there's only one principled candidate with the courage to do it. Rick Santorum: father, husband, a champion for life, the leader with a bold plan to restore America's greatness.

NAYLOR: Another ad on the air in Michigan features lots of pictures of Santorum with his family. While that's almost a campaign cliche, Freedman says it serves Santorum well.

FREEDMAN: He's telling people that he is a family man, that he has family values. And he's making connections to the people of Michigan on the basis of these values and of the basis of his connection to his family.

NAYLOR: Of course, Romney is also a family man, trying to connect with Michigan's primary voters. We'll find out February 28th who does the better job.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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