On Wednesday afternoon, the Romney campaign will hold a conference call featuring Michigan leaders discussing Rick Santorum's "record of increased government spending and earmarks." The call will include Hilllsdale College professor Gary Wolfrem, Oakland County chief executive Brooks Patterson, and Michigan state Rep. Aric Nesbitt.
The key similarity among them: None has served in the U.S. House or Senate, and thus none has had to vote on increased government spending and earmarks.
The same cannot be said of the current and former members of Congress who often speak on Romney's behalf on such calls. The Romney campaign discovered the risk of enlisting those lawmakers on Tuesday, when it held a call in which former Rep. and Sen. Jim Talent denounced Santorum's spending record. Among the targets of Talent's criticism was Santorum's support of the Medicare prescription drug entitlement. "He voted for Medicare Part D, a big expansion of a federal entitlement," Talent said of Santorum.
The problem was, Talent himself was in the Senate at the time, and he also voted for Medicare Part D. When reporters brought up that fact, Talent explained that he wasn't running against Santorum -- Romney was. (See the Weekly Standard's "Romney Surrogate Attacks Santorum for Voting the Same Way He Did.") Whatever the explanation, there's no doubt Talent's record undermined his criticism of Santorum, and in the end the episode highlighted why Santorum will be more difficult for the Romney team to attack than Newt Gingrich.
Much of the campaign against Gingrich focused on the former speaker's ethics case from the 1990s. It was easy for current and former members of Congress to criticize Gingrich, because they themselves had never admitted to ethics violations or paid a $300,000 penalty. Any member of Congress, even those mostly unfamiliar with what happened in the 1990s, could slam Gingrich and not worry about the heat being turned back on themselves.
Now it's not so simple. A new ad run in Michigan by the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future hits Santorum for voting to raise the federal debt ceiling, for voting in favor of wasteful spending, and for voting to raise his own pay as a member of Congress. How many members of Romney's team of House and Senate endorsers have never voted to raise the debt ceiling, never voted for wasteful spending, and never voted to raise congressional pay? The fact is, many, many Republicans who have been members of Congress, especially in the George W. Bush years, have done those things and more. How effective will they be in Romney's effort to condemn Santorum as a big spender? Romney himself can still make the spending argument against Santorum, although as governor of Massachusetts Romney sought federal earmarks just like other governors. But in this campaign Romney has often relied on surrogates to attack his opponents. From now on, when it comes to charges of big spending, Team Romney will have to be careful about who's doing the talking.