A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Thursday, March 29, 2012:

WHAT HAPPENED:

ROMNEY'S AD STRATEGY: In the television ad world created by Mitt Romney and his allies, Rick Santorum doesn't care about the unemployment rate. Newt Gingrich has "more baggage than the airlines." And both are Washington insiders who have bent their principles for money and influence. That advertising playbook has helped make Romney his Republican Party's likely presidential nominee and could offer a preview of what awaits President Barack Obama in the general election campaign. Voters in early primary states have seen plenty of this ad strategy already: a torrent of attacks on Romney's opponents along with a few positive spots about the GOP front-runner's biography and business experience. The strategy, devised by Romney's campaign and an allied independent group, has been focused and unforgiving, all but eviscerating his rivals while portraying Romney as an effective manager and devoted family man. Democratic media strategist Tad Devine says the approach has served Romney well so far but will face limitations against Obama, who will not lack for resources to go after his challenger on the air. "There's a great risk to the strategy he's pursued," Devine said of Romney. "When you define yourself as totally negative, you don't give voters any reassurance against the attacks that might be made against you."

LABORING FOR WISCONSIN: The fight over labor unions that is fueling a bitter recall effort aimed at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is having an impact on the Republican presidential campaign. Front-runner Mitt Romney is attacking rival Rick Santorum as a friend of "big labor" while Santorum is aligning himself with the embattled Republican governor, a play for a party base that Santorum hopes will carry him to victory in Wisconsin's presidential primary next Tuesday. With help from a well-funded allied group, Romney is pointing to union-friendly votes by Santorum. His swing back from confronting President Barack Obama to attacking his main GOP rival comes as a Marquette University poll shows him overtaking Santorum in Wisconsin, now leading by an 8-point margin, 39-31. In rejecting Romney's charge that he's a friend of labor, Santorum says that he supports a national right-to-work bill and that he opposed it while a senator because he didn't want to undermine Pennsylvania's opposition to the policy. Santorum represented southwestern Pennsylvania in the House for two terms and then won two terms in the Senate from the strong union state. Romney supports national right-to-work legislation.

DROPOUT REUNION: Two guys who hit dead-ends in the last White House race reunited in Wisconsin. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was in Milwaukee to raise money for former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, a fellow Republican who is seeking an open Senate seat. Both waged short-lived 2008 campaigns for president and neither seemed particularly eager to pick sides this year. Giuliani said he hadn't "even thought about it much yet" whether he'll endorse one of the finalists, saying Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich all have a plausible case to stay in the hunt. Thompson played statistician in declaring Romney the odds-on favorite to get the nomination. But Thompson rebuffed a suggestion he was hinting at who he'll endorse. Thompson, a popular ex-governor who won four statewide races, said he "probably will" endorse before Tuesday's primary. _ Contributed by Associated Press writer Brian Bakst in Milwaukee.

SPENDTORUM: Romney's campaign has a new nickname for Santorum: Rick "Spendtorum." In an effort to cast the former Massachusetts governor as someone who'd be more of a tightwad with the people's money, the campaign alleged in a statement that Santorum was part of the problem on fiscal issues during his time in Congress. The release noted millions in federal money that Santorum directed to his home state of Pennsylvania and his multiple votes to raise the government's borrowing limit. It also cited recent comments by Santorum that the economy isn't the issue in the GOP race and that he doesn't care about the unemployment rate. "During his time in Washington, Sen. Spendtorum was part of the problem when it came to fiscal issues," the statement says.

WOE IS RICK: He complains that GOP presidential rival Mitt Romney and his allies are outspending him. He laments that he doesn't have as beefy an organization as Romney. He insists Romney is trying to change the rules of the campaign in the middle of it, and is running unfair ads. Being Rick Santorum isn't easy _ and he's telling everyone who'll listen. "I'm not complaining. I'm not going to be whining about this," Santorum insists. Yet lately, as the party's nomination slips further out of his reach, Santorum has seemed to do just that. He has peppered his remarks with what he considers to be the injustices and inconveniences of being the unlikely challenger in the Republican presidential fight. It may be part ploy. The public tends to love an underdog, and Santorum often plays to that notion. It also may be a side effect of fatigue and frustration as the GOP race heads toward its fourth month and Santorum refuses to drop out despite badly trailing Romney in the hunt for delegates to the party's nominating convention in August. Or, as the case has been for nearly every presidential candidate at one point or another, it may just be Santorum longing for a simpler time when he wasn't always in the media spotlight.

PIPELINE PIQUE: The American Energy Alliance, which has ties to conservative causes, launched a $3.6 million ad buy lashing out at President Barack Obama's energy record. The group blames Obama for rising gas prices and his decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline project. The ad, which will air in eight states, seeks to undercut Obama's message that he has increased oil drilling and pushed to develop renewable energy sources. The ad criticizes Obama's opposition to oil drilling in Alaska, his effort to block the pipeline and the administration's decision to provide more than $500 million in federal loans to solar company Solyndra, which later went bankrupt. The ads are running in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Michigan, all considered crucial to the 2012 presidential campaign. The American Energy Alliance's president is Thomas Pyle, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. The industrial firm's top executives are Charles and David Koch, who have been prominent supporters of conservative causes.

THE TAB: OBAMA CAMPAIGN OPERATIONS

In January and February, the Obama re-election campaign spent $29.5 million on operational costs, about a fourth of it on fundraising-related expenses like postage, printing and telemarketing. Other expenses gleaned from filings with the Federal Election Commission include:

_$6.3 million: payroll for 500-plus staff members

_$1.1 million: computer equipment

_$435,000: rent and utilities

_$305,000: telephones

_$19,000: office supplies

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

_"When they point to the fact about how many people they've got hired and how many offices they've got, they're just trying to distract people from the reality of (how) they're going to have a heck of a time finding people to get out and vote for him." _ Rich Beeson, Mitt Romney's political director, dismissing the size of the Obama re-election machine.

_"Calling Rick Santorum a friend of labor is like calling Mitt Romney a conservative. Neither are true." _ Santorum.

_"People either love or hate Obama, and those in the middle, who are going to decide the 2012 election, haven't tuned in yet. ... Do you think they'll be moved more by ads or by realities like the economy?" _ Ken Goldstein, of Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising.

_"The quicker we can get this campaign on that focus _ focused on the president's record, on the alternative that we offer _ the better off we're going to be as a movement but also the better off the country's going to be." _ Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., while endorsing Mitt Romney.