The Jan. 31 Florida primary is setting up to be the most momentous of the Republican presidential campaign. The stakes are high, Politico
reports. This could be the primary that restores Mitt Romney to a winning path, or it could instead be a launching pad for Newt Gingrich to accelerate the momentum he received from his victory in the South Carolina primary Saturday.
The candidates’ attacks against each other are getting even nastier. And the amount of money that will be spent on advertising rises ever higher.
“Florida is Armageddon,” Ken Goldstein, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, told Politico. “It’s just a whole different ball game in terms of the scope of the campaign, the number of media markets, the size of media markets and the expense of the media markets.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney’s campaign and super PAC Restore Our Future purchased more than $5 million of air time for ads Monday, raising their total spending on Florida radio and TV ads to about $13 million, GOP media-buying sources told Politico. Those ads include the first negative ones against former House Speaker Gingrich sponsored by Romney’s own campaign.
Gingrich is just getting started, buying $145,000 of ads on Fox News. But his side is about to take a big step up in the money department. The wife of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has decided to give $5 million to Gingrich’s super PAC Winning Our Future.
That matches Adelson’s own $5 million contribution earlier in the month and does a lot to level the advertising playing field between the two candidates. Cash is hugely important, because Florida has 10 media markets.
And this is a state where advertising is far more important than retail campaigning, given Florida’s size. While Romney may still have a money/advertising edge over Gingrich, debates will also play a large role in Florida. And here Gingrich has a substantial advantage.
Some Florida Republicans say the debates have become even more important than ads in the Sunshine State. “I think people are tuned out to the advertising and they’re much more focused on venues like the debate,” Polk County GOP Chairman Jim Nelson, who is neutral, told Politico. “I truly think it’s anybody’s race and I think the debates will have a pretty dramatic impact on the turnout.”
The debates and ads already have pushed the campaign far into the negative territory, and that trend may intensify in the next week. Romney opened Monday’s debate with an attack on Gingrich for his work at government mortgage agency Freddie Mac, and he’s been campaigning on that negative theme as well.
Romney and Gingrich have gone up and down in Florida polls, with Gingrich now in the lead. The roller-coaster ride may continue.
“I’ve never seen one [primary campaign] this volatile, and I’ve been involved in a lot of them,” former Florida GOP Gov. Bob Martinez, who is neutral, told Politico. “Everybody’s got a small core [of support,] and they move around based on events. You can’t have the swings that you’re seeing without that being the case.”
Between their paid ads and free media coverage, Romney and Gingrich will have plenty of opportunity to get their message out. That’s not the case for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Santorum virtually has been ignored in Florida, despite his victory in the Iowa caucuses and his finish ahead of Gingrich in the New Hampshire primary. Paul decided to forego a campaign in Florida, making him irrelevant there.
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