Romney PACs Target Santorum with $6.2 Million in Ads

Sunday, 04 Mar 2012 09:19 PM

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With a fresh infusion of cash from a single benefactor, a group running advertisements for presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is back, allowing the candidate a presence before Super Tuesday even as the official campaign lacks resources.

But the pro-Mitt Romney group that it once did big-money battle with, it seems, has moved on: The Romney super PAC is focused entirely on former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a sign that people close to the candidate no longer view Mr. Gingrich as a serious threat.

With 10 states to hold primaries or caucuses Tuesday, scarcely a day has gone by without $2 million or more each being spent by Restore Our Future, the super PAC run by former aides to Mr. Romney, the one-time Massachusetts governor, or by Winning Our Future, the one connected to Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker.

The spending marks a resurgence by both groups after a hiatus by Winning Our Future and a period in which Restore Our Future’s dominance was being undercut by a combination of rivals including the Red, White and Blue Fund formed to support Mr. Santorum.

Editor's Note: Do you support Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich? Vote in Urgent Poll

The presidential super PACs have spent $11 million in Super Tuesday states in recent days, primarily in Ohio, at nearly $5 million, and Georgia, at $2.6 million. The Romney group has easily outspent the other groups combined at $6.2 million, compared with $3.3 million by the Gingrich group and $1.3 million from the Santorum PAC.

But in the critical state of Ohio, $500,000 in anti-Romney ads from a labor union were enough to tip the advertising balance against him. The vast majority of the Romney ads have been attacks on Mr. Santorum.

Mr. Santorum’s group has outspent Mr. Gingrich in Ohio and outspent both rivals in Idaho, while the Gingrich group has spent $1.1 million in Georgia, suggesting that Gingrich insiders are fearful of losing the state their candidate represented in Congress. Mr. Gingrich’s state was the only one in which the Romney super PAC ads have focused on Mr. Gingrich.

Mr. Romney’s group has focused only on key battleground states, while the Gingrich group has made small buys in peripheral states like Alaska, where other super PACs have not bothered to make buys — as if hoping for symbolic wins, if not delegate-rich ones, to energize his candidacy.

The independent groups are also venturing beyond television ads into more nuanced forms of voter engagement, suggesting they are evolving into more than post office boxes collecting large checks for larger television-ad buys. Restore Our Future on Friday sent mailers to Mississippi voters assailing Mr. Santorum, for example, while calling voters in Oklahoma and Ohio with a positive message.

That kind of engagement is made more difficult by a legal prohibition against coordinating with campaigns. There is no way for the campaign and super PAC to keep from duplicating efforts on resource-intensive microtargeting.

Most recently, super PACs staffed by proxies to the candidates have also been joined on a smaller scale by independent groups. On Friday, the American Jobs PAC spent $220,000 on pro-Gingrich television spots in Washington state, while the Life and Marriage PAC spent $50,000 on radio ads attacking Mr. Romney on social issues in Ohio.

While the super PAC buys are exceptionally large, the sheer shock-and-awe quality seems to have subsided since the early primary and caucus states such as South Carolina, where they spent $15 million. The groups spent $5 million in first-in-the-nation Iowa, a figure likely to be exceeded in Ohio, but not the other states, by Tuesday.

The Gingrich buys are notable since a month ago the Gingrich super PAC had only $2.4 million in the bank — not enough for the ad war it has since waged — compared with $16 million for Mr. Romney’s group, and the campaign itself had virtually no money, factoring in its debts.

That made casino magnate and longtime Gingrich supporter Sheldon Adelson his only hope. The Adelson family had given $11 million through January, records show, and spending suggests he made another donation in recent days.

Even as Mr. Gingrich struggles to stay in the race, the Romney super PAC is looking beyond super Tuesday to the deep South, where his finance savvy is less of an appeal against the social issues frequently championed by Mr. Santorum.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC

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