Big spenders: Romney, Gingrich poised to take over very pricey Florida airwaves

Dylan Stableford
The Ticket

Two days after the New Hampshire primary, Newt Gingrich and the rest of the GOP field had their eyes on South Carolina, the next primary of the campaign. But Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, was looking ahead to Florida, and released a television ad there attacking the former House speaker as a "desperate" candidate with "more baggage than the airlines."

That was just a taste of what's to expect over the next week in the Sunshine State.

Following Gingrich's win in South Carolina, the Gingrich and Romney campaigns, and their supporting super PACs, are poised to spend millions in Florida leading up to next Tuesday's primary—and will likely breeze by the $10.64 million spent by Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain in 2008 during that year's primary race.

"Romney finished second last time around and I don't know that he's going to settle for that this time," Ken Wheaton, managing editor at Advertising Age, told Yahoo News. "He's got an impressive war chest and I'd imagine he's going to unload a good bit of it in Florida."

Restore Our Future has already spent $5 million in Florida, according to Reuters, a little less than half of the total $11.4 million the group has spent on the 2012 campaign and more than 20 times the amount of any other candidate or super PAC.

"It is clear that, organizationally and resource-wise, Romney has had an aggressive commitment in Florida that we haven't seen from the other campaigns," Brian Hughes, the Republican Party spokesperson, told earlier this week.

But he won't be the only one on the air.

Winning Our Future, the super PAC supporting Gingrich, used a $5 million donation from Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas billionaire and casino owner, to blanket South Carolina with Romney attack ads in South Carolina in the days leading up to the Palmetto State primary, and is expected to take a similar tact in Florida. Late Monday, the Las Vegas Sun reported that Adelson, through his wife Miriam, will donate another $5 million to the PAC.

"My guess is so long as Gingrich stays competitive, Adelson, the eighth richest man in America, will be there to help through Winning Our Future," the Sun's Jon Ralston wrote. "And in so doing, he will keep Gingrich, whom he has known for a decade and a half, competitive with Mitt Romney's money machine."

Even Endorse Liberty, the super PAC supporting Ron Paul, announced on Monday that it has spent $1.4 million on radio and television ads in Florida—despite the fact that Paul is effectively skipping the stump there to focus on Nevada and points west.

"Endorse Liberty had been predominately digital up to now--lots of niche targeting—but they admitted they can't reach the older population with that method," Wheaton said. "So TV it is." (It's not just TV--Endorse Liberty has spent more than $1.6 million on Google AdWords in the last two weeks.)

The reason for the expected barrage of TV ad dollars has to do, in part, with geography. At 58,000-plus square miles, Florida is nearly twice the size of South Carolina—making television an effective way for candidates to reach the 4 million registered Republican voters they can't connect with on the trail.

Though it's also expensive. Of the 10 local television markets in Florida, three—Tampa, Miami, Orlando—are among the 20 largest in the country, according to Nielsen.

According to Rich Martinez, VP of sales for NBC Miami, the Romney campaign is the only candidate who has bought television ad time in Miami, the most expensive market in Florida—and one the GOP field has, to this point, largely avoided for that reason.

"The Gingrich campaign called to inquire about avails," Martinez told Yahoo News, "but at this point they haven't committed."

Nonetheless, Martinez said the 2012 campaign is on pace to match 2008's total spend in South Florida.

"The fact that there have been three different winners in the first three contests helps," he said.

Neither Paul's nor Santorum's campaigns have made inquiries in Miami, Martinez added, though it's early.

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