As a senior aide to Sam Brownback, Rob Wasinger knows first-hand what it's like to challenge Mitt Romney from the Right.
Though Brownback's campaign never caught fire, his credentials as a social conservative leader from the Mid West meant he was an early Romney rival. Operatives on both sides have admitted to me that the two campaigns simply didn't get along, and that they often traded barbs on the trail. (In the past, I've written about the contentious rivalry between Brownback and Romney.)
In a phone interview with me today, Wasinger echoed what I've heard other operatives say to me off the record -- that he believes Romney's campaign is behind many of the recent attacks on Mike Huckabee:
"They've got a scorched-earth strategy, and it's not surprising they are now going after Huckabee," Wasinger told me.
According to Wasinger, the Romney campaign is a disciplined and efficient operation that effectively uses blogs and opinion leaders to disseminate negative information regarding Romney's opponents:
"They roll out these surrogates to attack other candidates ... They are particularly sensitive to anyone who questions Mitt's conversion," he tells me.
Unlike ever before, candidates on both sides are utilizing bloggers and surrogates to spread their message. During a typical GOP debate, my blackberry is deluged with press releases, attacks, and up-to-the-minute rebuttals from the candidates. But while campaigns use the new media to spread their positive message, the medium is perhaps even better at advancing a negative narrative.
I can personally attest to the fact that all the major Republican campaigns, from time to time, leak negative stories to bloggers. I suspect this is true of the other side, too. Why do bloggers often bite? Sometimes because they already like the candidate, but often it's because it's a win/win: The campaign gets an attack without their finger prints on it, and the blogger gets some juicy information that (hopefully) nobody else in the world has ...
And Romney's team has clearly been at the top of their game, cultivating some of the best bloggers in the nation to help advance their message. On a large scale, Romney communications strategist Matt Roades is famously close to Matt Drudge -- that's obviously the nuclear option. But Romney has other blog allies, including MyManMitt, and these bloggers have obviously ratcheted up attacks on Huckabee in recent days.
Romney Communications Director Kevin Madden says the Romney campaign has focused on a positive message, but acknowledges the Romney campaign isn't afraid to show a sharp distinction between the candidates: "We won't hesitate to draw contrasts with other campaigns. Where there are big differences on big issues, it is important to inform the voter on those differences," he tells me.
Update: Jennifer Ruben has a post up about Romney's latest negative ad.