Should Mitt Romney Give Rick Santorum a Break?

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New York and Pennsylvania's April 24 primaries are fast approaching and while Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have mainly eyed the Empire State's 95 delegates, the Keystone State's contest might ultimately decide Santorum's electability.

Indeed, the former Pennsylvania Senator suffered a shattering loss there during his 2006 reelection bid, putting to question his popularity in his home state. Santorum remains undaunted and is treating the race as "do or die." As detailed in the Los Angeles Times, he'll need "to make the most of local connections to survive what could be the final showdown of the 2012 G.O.P. contest."

Most of the time, politicians capitalize on their opponents' weaknesses. Right when Mitt could do exactly this and sink the G.O.P. nomination, he has pulled back.

Team Romney has just announced that the candidate will pull negative ads "out of deference to Senator Santorum's decision to suspend his campaign for personal family reasons." (Santorum's 3-year-old daughter was hospitalized on Friday.)

But is this necessary?

Now, to be clear, we're not making light of Santorum's family situation. As hard impossible as it is to like the guy, he still has a sick kid, and basic human decency might require extending kind thoughts and sometimes, condolences, even to people who think that rape babies are "gift from God."

Still, Romney does not necessarily have to nix the negative spot.

Yes, the bit could be construed as nasty -- the gist is that Santorum "got fired" as senator in 2006, so he shouldn't be "promoted" to president.

But, this really doesn't constitute a developed personal attack; it's more just a statement of fact -- he lost by 17 points.

Yes, it would have been sketchy had Romney picked on Santorum on a deeper emotional or familial level or used his opponent's hiatus to spread smears. The ad, even in this context, doesn't give a kicking-a-man-when-he's-down vibe. Romney was making a comment on the electability of his top rival -- which seems pretty valid since their party will try to unseat a strong incumbent in November.

If Romney wanted to "act out of deference" to Santorum, he would suspend all campaigning until the return of his rival. Swapping a negative ad for a positive one -- what Romney wound up doing -- ultimately smacks more of a slick P.R. move than kindheartedness.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.


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