01/08/2012 12:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mitt Romney, Ron Paul In New Hampshire Air War

WASHINGTON -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, with a year-long, double-digit lead in the polls, has gone in for the kill in New Hampshire with his largest ad buy of the campaign. In an effort to swamp his competitors as they try to catch up to Romney after his razor-thin win in the Iowa caucuses, his campaign has dropped $454,170 in recent days on ad buys in the expensive Boston-area media market -- more than any of his competitors in the month of January.

Romney is coming on strong after investing little in television ads in 2011. He is campaigning furiously across the state, with appearances with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) and 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Romney's January ad buy reflects nearly half of the total ad buys Romney has made in the biggest media market covering New Hampshire.

Romney has consistently held double-digit leads in polls of New Hampshire voters and, according the most recent NBC/Marist poll, currently holds a 20 percent lead. This has led to a marked depression in television ad spending from the entire Republican primary field, as few candidates have dared to spend money on what looks like a sure-fire win for Romney in his own backyard. Romney's campaign has spent, in total, just under $1 million on ads in the Boston media market, significantly less than during his 2008 run.

The general paucity in GOP fundraising has also contributed to a dramatic drop in television advertising from the heights of 2008. This has come due to the requirement that candidates purchase air time in the expensive Boston media market, which covers the most populated portion of New Hampshire and includes the Manchester, N.H.-based WMUR station. According to advertising data collected by Patch.com for The Huffington Post, spending by candidates and super PACs has only reached $3.56 million since August. Nearly all of that spending comes from just two candidates and one super PAC.

"I'm struck by how small the Boston buys were compared to 2008," University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala told The Huffington Post.

Scala pointed to one candidate who has truly invested in the state by any considerable measure, "Ron Paul is the only one, compared to 2008, who really ramped up spending and was more aggressive."

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) spent the most among the candidates on advertising in the Boston media market. His campaign dropped $1.14 million and has tried to match Romney's recent ad burst in January with a combined ad buy of $330,145 across Boston stations and WMUR.

Polls show that this advertising is having an effect too. Paul went up with ads earlier than any other candidate, in August, and continued to steadily increase his spending month after month. According to HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal, Paul's support has climbed from 11 percent in October to 19.2 percent in January.

Paul is an appealing candidate to the independent-minded and libertarian voters of New Hampshire. He has been helped by being one of the few candidates to have raised significant money during a primary season that has seen a dearth of fundraising. The candidates combined to raise only $88 million through Sept. 30, the end of the third quarter. That is half of the $176 million the GOP field had raised at the same point in the 2008 election cycle. Paul raised $4 million more than he did in his 2008 run for the GOP nomination.

Paul's closing ad features pro-Paul activists, including New Hampshire state senators Andy Sanborn and Ray White, touting the Texas congressman. "He tells the truth about what he believes, whether you like it or not," one supporter says. The ad also takes aim at Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R) labeling them flip-floppers and hypocrites while pointing to their support for non-conservative policies like government stimulus.

The other candidates, attempting to coalesce the anti-Romney vote, haven't been so lucky on the fundraising front and haven't been able to get on air as a result. Gingrich had raised close to $5 million prior to his climb in the polls, which allegedly netted him $9 million in contributions. He has only spent $10,000 to advertise in the Boston media market covering southern New Hampshire.

The rising Rick Santorum had raised the least of all the major candidates with around $1 milion before his surprising finish in the Iowa Caucus. The former Pennsylvania senator has since stated that his near-win in Iowa brought in $2 million in contributions.

Santorum has campaigned furiously across New Hampshire over the past week in an attempt to recreate his grassroots effort in Iowa. His events have been crowded to point of chaos and, in one instance, to the point a woman collapsed and had to be treated for exhaustion. Santorum's sweater vests may have rapidly become ubiquitous across the Granite State, but his face is no where to be seen on the television screen.

To truly capitalize on his momentum, Santorum needs to make an ad buy to help make voters in New Hampshire know that he was for real. Santorum's fundraising, however, was moribund until the near-win-in-Iowa influx of donations. This has led Santorum to make up excuses for why he isn't going on air in the first primary state.

"We've raised a lot of money now but all the TV has been bought," Santorum told ABC News, "there's no place to get in. So you are sort of stuck having to run a grassroots campaign coming down the stretch. It’s hard to make up 39 points in five days with a grassroots campaign."

Of course, not all the air time has been bought. The combined purchases of air time for January reached only $1.15 million across the Boston media market. At this point in 2008, the campaigns of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, McCain and Romney were all making ad buys reaching $1 million at a time. There's more than enough air time to go around.

Santorum has gotten some support from a super PAC -- Leaders for Families -- that aided him in Iowa. The group has only invested around $12,000 for a radio ad buy backing the candidate. Meanwhile, the super PAC that spent nearly $600,000 on ads for Santorum in Iowa -- Red White And Blue Fund -- is skipping New Hampshire and has moved on to South Carolina.

The only super PAC -- new big money vehicles that can raise and spend unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions and individuals -- that has truly made an investment in New Hampshire is Our Destiny, the group backing former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R). Our Destiny spent more than any candidate on advertising in the Boston media market with a total of $1.25 million. The PAC's spending was probably even higher, with purchases on cable television and in the smaller media markets of Portland, Maine and Burlington, Vt. Reports filed by the group with the Federal Election Commission show spending on independent expenditures of $2,453,204.

While the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future dominated Iowa with an unprecedented flurry of negative advertisements annihilating Gingrich, Our Destiny has run only positive ads touting Huntsman, also the former U.S. ambassador to China.

Huntsman has bet his entire candidacy on New Hampshire, but like much of the GOP field he has been hamstrung by poor fundraising. Instead he has relied on a super PAC, run by his former campaign aides and funded by his billionaire father, to give his campaign support on the air waves while he has pounded the pavement in grassroots appearances across the state.

These positive ads and Huntsman's grassroots efforts in the state have helped to raise his poll numbers to close to 10 percent, which could lead him to a third or fourth place finish.