Romney had a similar advantage on the air in South Carolina, but television is likely to have a much bigger effect on the Florida primary on Tuesday. Florida, the fourth most populous state, is more than four times as large as South Carolina, and the vast majority of the expected 2 million Republican voters there will only see the candidates in a mediated format.
The question looming over the contest is whether Gingrich can use his debate performances and media coverage to make up for the disparity in paid advertising.
Romney and the PAC, called Restore Our Future, are once again focused squarely on Gingrich’s character and record. The last time the former House speaker had such dramatic momentum in the polls, he lost it amid a flood of negative advertising in Iowa from Romney’s super PAC.
“Gingrich came up, and they nailed him with paid media in Iowa,” said Ken Goldstein, who tracks political advertising for Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. “Now he’s got more momentum. Are they going to be able to knock him back down again?”
Figures from Kantar show that 80 percent of broadcast spending by the Romney super PAC in Florida has been on negative ads targeting Gingrich.
The super PAC backing Romney has been on the air in Florida for five weeks, and Romney’s campaign has been there three weeks. Gingrich’s campaign and super PAC went on the air this week.
Romney’s campaign began running its first negative ad Tuesday, hitting Gingrich for work he did for mortgage company Freddie Mac. The Romney super PAC also has a new ad hitting Gingrich for tying himself to former president Ronald Reagan, saying that Gingrich was mentioned only once in Reagan’s diaries.
Gingrich’s super PAC, Winning Our Future, released its first ad in the state focused on the health-care law Romney passed in Massachusetts. The spot repeats a pixelated video of Romney saying, “I’m someone who is moderate, and my views are progressive.”
The ad is being funded by a $5 million donation from Miriam Adelson, wife of billionaire casino executive Sheldon Adelson, who himself gave $5 million to back Gingrich early in January.
Gingrich’s super PAC has said it’s placing a $6 million ad buy in Florida, about the same amount as Romney’s campaign so far. But the super PAC backing Romney is expected to spend an additional $9 million in Florida. Gingrich’s campaign has bought only a negligible amount of air time to date.
Staff writer Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.