The plans include a $1 million ad buy from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the nation’s largest public employee union, which is focusing on Romney’s history as head of the private-equity firm Bain Capital. The Service Employees International Union and Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC, have also jointly launched a Spanish-language radio campaign in Florida accusing Romney of having “two faces” on immigration issues.
The push signals a growing belief among Democrats that they may have a real chance at helping to derail Romney, who has long been viewed as Obama’s most formidable GOP opponent but is reeling from a loss to Gingrich in South Carolina. Gingrich and Romney are locked in a tight race ahead of Tuesday’s Florida primary.
While unions and other groups commonly run political ads supporting their candidates in the general election, this is something different — an unusually direct intervention by one side into the other party’s primary race, political strategists said.
“The target of opportunity presented itself, and we decided to take advantage of it,” said Seth Johnson, assistant director in AFSCME’s political action department. “Before South Carolina and after South Carolina, Mitt Romney is still the front-runner. We thought it was a good time to educate Florida voters about his record.”
Johnson added that it was “a pretty rare occurrence” for the union to get involved in a Republican primary.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the efforts were part of an “all hands on deck” strategy by Democrats to “kill Romney” in the same way Obama targeted Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008.
“The last thing the White House wants is Mitt Romney as an opponent,” Saul said, adding that Obama “is desperate to distract from his failed economic record.”
For months, Democrats and affiliated groups have focused their attacks almost exclusively on Romney as the presumed GOP rival to Obama, largely ignoring Gingrich, Rick Santorum and other Republican hopefuls. The efforts have included news conferences, Web videos and other tactics aimed at getting news coverage.
But until now, pro-Democratic groups have bought relatively few broadcast ads during the GOP primary season, which has been dominated by spending from conservative groups backing Romney or opposing Obama, according to expenditure data. One pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, has spent $5 million in Florida, according to the Federal Election Commission.
“There’s no doubt he’s put his campaign in the weakest position it’s been in months,” Bill Burton, a Priorities USA spokesman and former White House aide, said in regard to Romney.