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Can Gingrich, Santorum Win by Whining? Can Gingrich, Santorum Win by Whining?

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Can Gingrich, Santorum Win by Whining?

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Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is surrounded by media after arriving at a campaign stop at Buffalo Wild Wings on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011 in Ames, Iowa. Republican presidential candidates are largely shifting from persuading voters to mobilizing them for Tuesday's caucuses.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

ATLANTIC -- Delivering their closing arguments before Tuesday's caucus, both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are making a similar pitch: Vote for me to send a message in favor of good, clean campaigns.

Gingrich began whining about the negative onslaught of ads against him weeks ago and has made it an essential part of his stump speech. The constant complaints have knocked him off message.

"It will be interesting to see whether in fact the people of Iowa decide that they don't like the people who run negative ads,'' Gingrich said Saturday in remarks to about 100 people at a Coke bottling plant. "You could send a tremendous signal to the country that the era of nasty and negative 30-second campaigns is over.''

Good luck with that. While there's no doubt Gingrich has been the prime target of attack ads in Iowa, it seems unlikely that voters would back him out of some sort of solidarity or to show their outrage with the culprits. And in some cases, blame for the attack ads is hard to assign because the ads come not from the Rick Perry or Mitt Romney campaigns themselves, but from allied groups.

"It's a weak argument,'' said 72-year-old Jerry Hays after Gingrich's speech, though he added that he's tired of the attack ads.

Similarly, Santorum, who has spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate, has repeatedly suggested that a vote for him is a vote to preserve the state's tradition of retail politics. The obvious suggestion being that backing the front-running Romney -- who has spent little time in Iowa -- would be like rewarding bad behavior.

Voters like to say they vote for the person, not the party. I'm betting they also vote for the person over "sending a message'' about campaign strategy.

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