WASHINGTON -- Fresh off a triumphant victory in the South Carolina primary, former Speaker Newt Gingrich came to Florida with the wind at his back. What he may not have known was that he would be riding those winds into a wall of money. A newly feisty Mitt Romney, fighting for his political life, and his loyal super PAC unloaded on Gingrich in the Sunshine State with a massive spending binge that included wall-to-wall attack ads in a repeat of the assault that knocked Gingrich from the top of the polls in the run-up to the Iowa caucus.
The biggest spender in Florida -- the most expensive state in the Republican primary to date -- has been the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. Run by a trio of former Romney advisers, the group has spent $10.7 million in the state. The vast majority of that -- $9.9 million -- has gone into a barrage of ads, on television and radio, and direct mail attacking Gingrich. That's more than double what pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future is spending in Florida.
This is the opposite of what happened in South Carolina, where Winning Our Future was able to match the spending of Restore Our Future and provide Gingrich with room to win.
In total, according to a report from ABC News, the Romney campaign and his super PAC are outspending Gingrich and his allies by a margin of 4 to 1 on television. NBC's First Read reported that the total advertising spending between the two campaigns and their respective super PACs is above $22 million.
To put that in perspective, the 2008 Republican primary election saw only $10.64 million spent on broadcast television ads, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG). That spending was done by only three campaigns -- Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Romney -- and no outside groups.
The negativity of the ads has ramped up as well. Pushing this trend is the Romney campaign, which has abandoned its positive, American optimism campaign for a sharper contrast with Gingrich. The move to a contrast campaign has found Florida television viewers subjected to a variety of attacks on the former speaker.
Gingrich "cashed in" with Freddie Mac, the pro-Romney ads say, while "Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis." Despite mentioning conservative demigod Ronald Reagan more than fifty times in the debates, one Restore Our Future ad notes that Reagan only mentioned Gingrich once in his diaries. A Spanish language radio ad notes that Gingrich once called Spanish the language of the ghetto.
All of these ads have played into the lines of attack used by Romney in recent televised debates in Florida. Perhaps to deflect attention away from the debate over his tax returns, Romney made hay out of Gingrich's work as a consultant for the failed mortgage lender Freddie Mac by calling the speaker an "influence peddler." The ad mentioning Reagan came after Romney teased Gingrich in a debate in Charleston, S.C., by informing him that Reagan had only mentioned him once in his diary.
The result, along with two lackluster debate performances by Gingrich, has been a roller coaster ride in the polls. Gingrich shot up in the Florida polls as he was winning South Carolina's primary, but rapidly sunk after the Romney's campaign and super PAC blanketed in the state with ads, while Romney came to life as a candidate in the debates by attacking Gingrich.
The Gingrich campaign and super PAC, meanwhile, spent much of the past week misfiring their attempted attacks on Romney. Their efforts to tie Republican-turned-Independent former Gov. Charlie Crist to Romney fell flat. So did an attack on Romney as anti-immigrant after Sen. Marco Rubio, who is neutral in the primary race, stated, "This kind of language is more than just unfortunate. It’s inaccurate, inflammatory, and doesn’t belong in this campaign."
Another Gingrich ad, released on Friday, used a clip of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) saying, "If a man's dishonest to get a job, he'll be dishonest on the job," before launching into a brutal attack on Romney as a "liar." Huckabee cut the ad off at the knees by issuing a statement saying, "Any use of an out-of-context quote from the Republican presidential primary four years ago in a political ad to advocate for the election or defeat of another candidate is not authorized, approved, or known in advance by me."
The Gingrich super PAC's spending has also failed to reach levels reported in the press. They have only reported spending $3.9 million to the FEC, despite numerous press reports stating an intention to spend over $6 million. That spending could still materialize and the Friday evening release of a new documentary savaging Mitt Romney for allegedly profiting from a company that was engaged in a massive scheme to defraud Medicare could presage a new push to even the fight for the air waves.