Copyright ©2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

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.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.