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PICKET: Romney and Santorum spar over felon voting at SC debate

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Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was pounced upon by his GOP rivals at the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Republican debate on Tuesday. Hosted by Fox News, the debate was whittled down to five candidates as former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman officially withdrew from the presidential race. One particular exchange happened early on between Mr. Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum over felon voting.

Sen. Santorum went after Mr. Romney for attack ads launched by a pro-Romney Super PAC claiming that Mr. Santorum voted to allow felons to vote. It should be noted USA Today fact checked the ad’s claim and stated that Super Pac was stretching the truth: 

Santorum was correct on the facts while defending himself against a misleading ad run by the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. The ad claimed Santorum “even voted to let convicted felons vote.” Because the ad features a background image of a man in an orange prison jumpsuit wearing an “I voted” sticker, Santorum said the clear implication is that he voted to allow felons to vote from prison.In fact, as Santorum correctly noted, the amendment he voted for in 2002 would have allowed felons to register to vote only after they had successfully completed their probation and parole. Santorum was one of just three Republicans to vote for the amendment, which failed 63-31.

When Romney said his view is that “I don’t think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote again,” Santorum replied that, “in the state of Massachusetts when you were governor, the law was that not only could violent felons vote after they exhausted their sentences, but they could vote while they were on probation and parole.” He’s right. Massachusetts is one of 13 states that allow people with felony convictions to vote upon release from prison.

When Santorum asked Romney why he didn’t try to change that law when he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney said it was “something we discussed” but that the Massachusetts Legislature at the time was 85% Democratic.

Following the debate I spoke with Mr. Romney’s spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom about the back and forth Gov. Romney had with Sen. Santorum over felon voting. 

“The state of the law is such that the candidates cannot coordinate with those outside groups. As far as Rick Santorum goes, he obviously feels very strongly about providing voting rights to felons. Mitt Romney disagrees with that. Rick Santorum to his point of view, but that doesn’t mean that Mitt Romney has to agree with it.”

Mr. Santorum was critical of Mr. Romney for not showing a stronger stance against a Massachusetts law that protects felon voting rights. The Romney campaign will only say that their candidate had nothing to do with the creation of the law and chose not to fight it with an 85 percent Democratic legislature. However, does this mean Romney only chooses to fight for issues he knows he has a better chance to win?

“You pick the fights that you want to go forward with. You heard him explain he had an 85 percent Democratic legislature, so he was picking his fights,” said Ferhnstrom of Romney to reporters on Monday night. “He was choosing his fights wisely with a legislature that would have been hostile to oppose change in that area.”

 

 

 

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About the Author
Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket, a former Opinion Blogger/Editor of The Watercooler, was associate producer for the Media Research Center, a content producer for Robin Quivers of "The Howard Stern Show" on Sirius satellite radio and a production assistant and copy writer at MTV.

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