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Rick Santorum Sweep

February 8, 2012 by staff 

Rick Santorum Sweep, Rick Santorum’s sweep of Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s three Republican presidential contests sets the stage for a new and bitter round of intraparty acrimony as Mr. Romney once again faces a surging conservative challenge to his claim on the party’s nomination.

Mr. Santorum’s rebuke of Mr. Romney could scramble the dynamics of the Republican race even as many in the party’s establishment were urging its most committed activists to finally fall in line behind Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor. Voters in three disparate states forcefully refused to do that on Tuesday.

Instead, the most conservative elements of the Republican Party’s base expressed their unease with Mr. Romney by sending a resounding message that they preferred someone else. And they collectively revived the candidacy of Mr. Santorum, who has been languishing in the background since a narrow victory in Iowa’s caucuses at the beginning of the year.

Mr. Santorum’s success on Tuesday night awarded him no delegates from contests that were essentially nonbinding straw polls and drew small turnouts in all three states. And Mr. Santorum’s campaign has few of the organizational advantages of Mr. Romney’s well-financed effort.

The long-term damage to Mr. Romney is difficult to assess. His campaign has so far weathered several surges from challengers — Mr. Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Herman Cain — only to re-emerge as the leading contender to face President Obama in the fall. He also has the support of a well-financed “super PAC,” which has demonstrated a willingness to spend heavily on advertising critical of Mr. Romney’s rivals.

Aides to Mr. Romney said they were preparing to quickly expand their attacks on Mr. Santorum’s record as they try to define him, aggressively and negatively, for voters who still see Mr. Santorum largely as a blank slate. The advisers said Mr. Romney would most likely take part in the attacks on Mr. Santorum much like he did in Florida against Mr. Gingrich.

“He’s a limited guy, he’s been in Washington all his whole life, voted for the Bridge to Nowhere, voted against right to work,” Stuart Stevens, a top aide to Mr. Romney, said of Mr. Santorum on Tuesday night. “He’s cut tons and tons of deals, lost his own state by 18 points.”

Mr. Romney’s campaign is prohibited from coordinating privately with Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing him. But the public message from Mr. Romney’s aides seems to be: hit Santorum now, and hit him hard. For the moment, however, officials at Restore Our Future said the group is continuing its criticism of Mr. Gingrich with a new ad in Ohio.

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