April 09–REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney has ordered a temporary pause in his saturation bombing campaign against Rick Santorum.
It’s the latest twist in the high-stakes Pennsylvania primary contest, which could be the final showdown of the 2012 GOP race.
Romney’s campaign announced Monday that it has pulled back an anti-Santorum attack ad “out of deference” to Santorum’s decision to stay by his ailing daughter Bella’s bedside.
The 3-year-old, who suffers from a congenital condition known as Trisomy 18, is improving but remains in the hospital, where she has been since Friday, according to Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart. The former senator had previously canceled planned private events on Monday and is to resume campaigning in the state on Tuesday.
Romney aide Andrea Saul said the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign “has instructed all TV stations to pull our current ad on Sen. Santorum’s record ASAP and until further notice. ” The Romney statement linked to a Salena Zito article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review with details about the initial $2. 9 million buy.
Romney is mainly going after Santorum in the more moderate eastern part of Pennsylvania, where he hopes to run up enough votes to swamp his rival’s expected edge in the remainder of the state. The ads are running in four of the state’s six biggest media markets–Philadelphia, Scranton, Altoona and Erie. The negative ads–some of which may well have aired before the switch–target Santorum’s record as a senator and his 2006 re-election defeat, according to Zito.
The attacks have never failed in previous primaries where they’ve been employed, but they’ve never been used in Santorum’s home state. They are part of an all-out effort by Romney to finish off Santorum in the April 24 primary, which would effectively end the long GOP nomination fight.
For now, the Romney camp is substituting a rare positive spot about its candidate, touting his economic conservatism.
Romney’s spokeswoman said the order to switch the ad was “the earliest we could let [local TV stations] know, due to station closures over the holiday weekend. ” She said that “stations will comply with this request as soon as they are technically able,” suggesting the ad has probably already aired Monday morning in those markets.
If Santorum returns to the campaign on Tuesday, as expected, the Romney cease-fire will presumably end as well.
paul. west@latimes. com