MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The flood of presidential campaign ads that saturated Iowa has slowed to nearly a ripple in New Hampshire, where only Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and an outside group supporting Jon Huntsman are spending heavily before the state's primary next Tuesday.
Romney's strong lead in New Hampshire polls and the high cost of TV advertising in the Boston media market, which dominates the state's heavily populated southern region, have kept most of the candidates off the air in the state – and looking instead to South Carolina, which holds its primary Jan. 21.
"If you spend money in New Hampshire, you raise expectations that can be hard to meet. You don't want to trap yourself," said Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist and media critic at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. "If you think your ceiling is higher in South Carolina, it makes more sense to spend money there."
Campaigns and independent groups spent about $13 million on ads in Iowa ahead of the caucuses.
But only about $5 million in ads have run in New Hampshire, with Paul and The Our Destiny super PAC backing Huntsman accounting for roughly $3.7 million of that, according to ad buying data provided to The Associated Press. About $3.1 million has been spent in South Carolina so far, with more than half of that having come from a pro-Rick Perry super PAC, Make Us Great Again.
South Carolina is shaping up to be a more competitive state than New Hampshire, where Romney's standing is strong.
In light of that, Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC that blistered Newt Gingrich with $3 million in attack ads in Iowa, is all but skipping the contest.
The group, run by allies of the former Massachusetts governor, announced Friday it would place full-page ads against Gingrich in major newspapers in New Hampshire and South Carolina but is not buying television time in New Hampshire.
"On issue after issue, Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama have so much in common, the right choice is to choose neither," said the ads set to run Monday in the Union Leader in New Hampshire and the State newspaper in South Carolina.
Gingrich has complained bitterly about the group's ads, which helped sink him to a fourth place showing in Iowa.
He's preparing to battle back with a new ad this weekend calling Romney's economic plan "timid" and "virtually identical to Obama's." His campaign was set to spend about $250,000 on the ad in South Carolina, but only a tiny fraction in New Hampshire.
Romney is running a new ad in South Carolina criticizing the National Labor Relations Board and "union stooges" for blocking Boeing from building a nonunion factory in the state. The NLRB dropped its case after a new four-year labor agreement was settled.
Rick Santorum, who has emerged as Romney's top conservative challenger after battling him to a virtual tie in Iowa, is targeting South Carolina with his first major ad buy. The former Pennsylvania senator's campaign plans to begin a heavy round of TV ads there Monday after spending a minimal amount on cable television ads in New Hampshire.
A pro-Santorum super PAC called the Red White and Blue Fund has also bought ads in South Carolina beginning Saturday. The group ran nearly $500,000 in ads in Iowa, boosting Santorum's shoestring campaign.
The group's new ad calls Santorum a "principled conservative."
"Champion. Leader. Reformer. Rick Santorum will never waver," the ad says.
For his part, Paul was prepared to challenge that claim.
Paul's campaign was set to launch a 60-second ad Monday in South Carolina, hitting Santorum for "a record of betrayal" on government spending.
Perry, who is skipping New Hampshire to make a last-ditch effort in South Carolina, is running TV ads there, as is the pro-Perry Make Us Great Again committee. Both the Perry campaign and the super PAC spent heavily in Iowa, but the former Texas governor still placed a disappointing fifth in the caucuses.
New Hampshire's airwaves have been left to the campaigns hoping to do best in the state – Romney, who needs a decisive win after his squeaker victory in Iowa; Paul, who's gambling his libertarian message will play well; and Huntsman, who skipped Iowa altogether to go all out in New Hampshire.
Romney's "Optimism" ad, in which he says it's time for "this pessimistic president" to step aside, has been airing on New Hampshire stations and recently began airing on Boston television. In "Leader," another New Hampshire ad, Romney proclaims his dedication to his family and church over old photos and video footage of his sons and his wife, Anne.
Paul, who has been on the air on New Hampshire television for months, has recently gone up with ads in the Boston market. The Texas congressman's campaign is running a 60-second ad that criticizes Romney, Gingrich and Santorum.
The Our Destiny super PAC supporting Paul rolled out a new ad in New Hampshire this week depicting Romney as a chameleon who will say and do anything to be elected. The group has spent about $1.9 million in New Hampshire so far.
The Huntsman campaign is also running a much smaller ad campaign in New Hampshire. "We are getting screwed as Americans," Huntsman says in the ad.
Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey in New Hampshire contributed to this report.