TAMPA, FLORIDA — According to some final spending numbers shared with TPM by a Democratic media observer, Mitt Romney’s lucky number in the final push to the Jan. 31 primary here is five.
As in five-to-one: that’s the ratio — just about — by which Romney and his allies have outspent Newt Gingrich and his allies on TV in the Sunshine State. The narrative that Team Romney is pushing is that of a new-and-improved candidate, battle-hardened after his South Carolina woes, and sharpened as a candidate by having had to outsmart Newt Gingrich.
The Dems think these figures suggest something else: that it’s not Romney who’s winning votes in Florida, but the size of his wallet.
According to my Democratic source, the total ad spending through Tuesday in Florida by the Romney campaign and its allied super PAC, Restore Our Future, is $15,340,000. The total spending for Gingrich’s campaign and his super PAC, Winning Our Future, is $3,390,000.
That huge disparity in ad spending is reminiscent of Iowa, where a surging Gingrich was badly outspent by Romney’s forces and saw his momentum collapse. Gingrich was supposed to have the money to play in Florida, thanks to be new infusions of super PAC cash from the Adelson family, which helped him run a negative ad barrage in South Carolina (where, by comparison, Team Romney outspent him only 2-to-1) that helped push him to his big victory in the Palmetto State.
That didn’t happen, according to the spending figures. The Romney campaign has said their candidate has learned his lesson from South Carolina, sharpening up his campaign style and going on the attack on the debate stage. The two candidate forums last week did at least show that Gingrich wasn’t invincible on the debate stage, and likely played a part in Romney’s resurgence.
Still, the huge spending gap is hard to overlook. And Democrats in Florida say they’ve seen this movie before with Gov. Rick Scott (R), who spent big to squeak out a win in the 2010 election only to see his approvals fall into the 30s shortly thereafter.
“After failing to gain traction with Republican voters in South Carolina, anemic frontrunner Mitt Romney has turned to a scorched-earth spending approach in a desperate move to secure a victory,” Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Brannon Jordan told me in an email. “Romney is clearly pulling from Governor Rick Scott’s playbook, depending on campaign slogans and dodging the press to avoid talking about his own record of Medicare fraud and killing jobs. Romney may survive on Tuesday, but his negative campaigning and pandering to the far-right have taken a toll on his appeal with the independent-minded voters who decide elections in Florida.”
I asked Romney’s Florida co-chair, Justin Sayfie, what he thought of the theory that Romney is buying his way into better poll numbers here.
“Romney is a undoubtedly a better candidate,” Sayfie, a former spokesperson for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, told me in an email conversation. ” To think that money is deterministic reveals a crude understanding of what influences voters. It’s much more complicated than that. But I do hope the Democrats persist in the belief that Romney is not a better candidate today than he was a week ago. Good for us.”