WASHINGTON -- Coming off a string of wins in Michigan, Washington and Wyoming, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hopes to solidify his status as the frontrunner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination by racking up wins in the 11 states voting on Super Tuesday. Yet again, Romney hopes to knock off his opponents with a little help from his friends. Restore Our Future, the unlimited-money super PAC run by former Romney campaign aides, is back again with $6.7 million in spending, spread predominantly across four key states voting on Tuesday: Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
In total, independent groups, which are supposedly unaffiliated with the campaigns, have spent $11.9 million across the Super Tuesday states, according to records held by the Federal Election Commission. Most of that money has gone towards television and radio ads that are almost entirely negative.
Those negative ads have largely zeroed in on former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who, despite running a shoestring campaign, has emerged as the most serious threat to Romney's grip on the nomination. Forty-two percent of all the Super Tuesday super PAC spending comes in the form of attacks on Santorum.
This follows the pattern that Restore Our Future has established throughout the primaries. With each new threat from another candidate -- be it Santorum in Michigan or on Super Tuesday, or former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida -- the Romney super PAC has launched blistering attack ads to help stall those candidates' momentum.
Santorum focused on the spending disparity he has faced against Romney in recent comments: "Gov. Romney, with all of the money advantages that any candidate could ever want -- I mean huge money advantages -- has still not been able to close the deal. That's got to tell you something."
The Super Tuesday battle between Romney and Santorum has centered on Ohio. The state has the second-most delegates, 66, up for grabs on Tuesday and represents a crucial swing state that Republicans need to win to defeat President Barack Obama in the general election. No Republican nominee has won the White House without winning Ohio.
Santorum has claimed that the people of Ohio are a lot like those that he represented for 16 years in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania. This, he claims, makes him well suited to beat Obama in Ohio and other industrial mid-western states.
So far, Romney's super PAC has outspent Santorum's super PAC, Red White And Blue Fund, by a ratio of nearly of 3 to 1 in Ohio. In Oklahoma, another state where Santorum hopes to do well, Romney's super PAC is outspending Santorum's super PAC by nearly 50 to 1. In Tennessee that margin is 9 to 1.
In Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee, Restore Our Future is running an ad blasting Santorum for comments he made in the most recent Republican debate held in Arizona. The ad uses Santorum's own words to explain his vote for a bill that contained funding for Planned Parenthood: "While I have a personal moral objection to it, even though I don't support it, I voted for bills that included it."
Another Restore Our Future ad hitting Santorum in Oklahoma and Tennessee contrasts Santorum's experience in Washington with Romney's business experience, which Romney has been emphasizing on the stump in the Super Tuesday states. The ad attacks Santorum's votes to raise the debt limit five times and his votes on spending bills, including one that contained an earmark known as the "Bridge to Nowhere."
Both ads follow a Restore Our Future formula: use issue-based negative information -- votes, bill sponsorships and statements -- to attack an opponent's character.
Red White And Blue Fund is spending almost all of its money in Ohio. For most of the primary season, the Santorum super PAC has run positive ads to introduce Republican primary voters to Santorum, whose money woes prior to his victory in the Iowa caucuses prevented him from being able to afford television ads. The super PAC has entered Super Tuesday with a new crop of ads with a new negative tone. One ad running in Super Tuesday states calls out Romney and Gingrich for supporting an individual health care mandate like the one at the core of the health care law passed by Obama and Congress in 2010. Another ad, singling out Romney, claims that his signature health care law in the state of Massachusetts provided "the blue print for Obamacare."
In Georgia, Restore Our Future has focused on Gingrich, who is holding on to a lead in the polls in his home state. The group, which has dropped $1.5 million against Gingrich in the state, is running with the same suite of ads it used to blast Gingrich off of his perch as the anti-Romney candidate back in December and January. The ads lambast Gingrich's "baggage" and state that he once sponsored a bill with Nancy Pelosi that would have given money to a United Nations program that funded China's one-child policy. This latter assertion has been labeled false by the political fact-checking site Politifact.
Gingrich's super PAC, Winning Our Future, has been mostly dormant since his crushing defeat in Florida. That changed in the last week, when the group announced a big national radio ad buy and more targeted spending in Georgia. The super PAC is spending $1.1 million in Georgia, where Gingrich has pinned his hopes of remaining in the race on a victory. The group has also bought up air time in Tennessee ($728,446) and Oklahoma ($478,237).
The hefty spending by Restore Our Future in the Southern states shows Romney's intent to pull as many delegates as he can in states where he might have difficulty winning. Over the weekend Romney made a swing through Georgia and Tennessee. His spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters, "I don't know if we have any realistic expectation of beating Newt Gingrich in his home state, but we look to taking some delegates out. Same thing in Tennessee."
The candidate-specific super PACs have been vital instruments in the Republican primary. They have spent more on television advertisements than the candidates in almost every primary state. The groups, which can collect unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions, were created by the FEC in the wake of two court decisions, most prominently the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.
The super PACs backing Republican candidates are not alone in advertising in the Super Tuesday states. Priorities USA Action, the super PAC that Obama recently gave his support to, is running $500,000 worth of ads against Romney in Ohio. The ad criticizes Romney for his opposition to the automotive industry bailout. In 2008, Ohio ranked as the third biggest producer of cars in the United States, behind only Michigan and Indiana.