'Rombo' Ad Is a Smart Way For Rick Santorum to Retaliate Against Mitt Romney in Michigan


On Wednesday, the Santorum campaign released their new ad targeting Romney. The ad has been affectionately dubbed “Rombo” and it shows an automatic gun-toting Mitt Romney trying to shoot a cardboard cut-out of Rick Santorum with a paintball gun. 

The brilliance of this ad is twofold. First, it is negative but in a different way than Romney's attacks were negative against Newt Gingrich . In Iowa, Romney's ads focused on attacking Gingrich's ethical integrity, among other thingsx . In the end, they were so effective, that Gingrich spent most of the aftermath crying about how crushing they had been. Voters took note, even if they didn't like Gingrich's response, and the same sort of televised carpet bombing might not be so effective against Santorum this time around. These lessons go double for Santorum. He can't whine about being outspent and he can't be just like Romney in his negativity.

Enter humor, the great diplomat. By depicting Romney as a paintball-firing goofball, Santorum can get his message across, promote himself, allude to the campaign meme of Obomneycare (there is some text in the ad talking about how Romney's health care plane was the blueprint for Obama's health care proposal), and all without seeming like an angry, desperate runner-up candidate. The production value is pretty low (you can't see the paintball gun even fire), but the overall effect is still pretty slick looking. (I think there's a story somewhere in all of this story about how they found such a good Romney double).

The second brilliant effect of this ad can be seen in a recent exchange with a Santorum staffer. When asked how much money was being devoted to the ad, the staffer simply responded, “everyone in Michigan will see it.” The fact that I'm writing this article is proof that the staffer is right. Since the Romney Super PAC has spent nearly ten times the amount that the Santorum has. and since Romney has much, much more money on hand to escalate the pressure, Santorum has taken a leap away from traditional dollar-versus-dollar spending wars and is stepping into the world of social media. Santorum has instead jumped ; into the world of the virality coefficient. If his video is shared enough, his campaign will hardly have to spend a dollar to make it effective. 

Then again, it's not clear how many of the target voters in Michigan would see a viral internet video. The key will be if traditional media outlets like news programs run the ad as a news feature.

How will Romney hit back? I haven't seen any plausible silver bullets ads, but the Romney strategy  is apparently to make Santorum seem like a Washington insider and to highlight his lack of executive experience. These are pretty boring angles compared to a paintball match, and they aren't likely to be effective when the reason people are attracted to Santorum is his commitment to his positions, a quality typically associated with leadership.  

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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Jordan Wolf

My training is partially in philosophy and I'm interested in democratic theory, but more practically, I like thinking about media sophistication, data in politics, and ways to curb partisanship.

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