TAMPA, FLORIDA — Did Mitt Romney improve as a candidate after his South Carolina shellacking — or did he just buy Florida? How this question is answered could have a big effect on how tonight’s primary results are received.
Democrats and Romney’s Republican opponents would like you to believe the Buying Florida theory. For days now, they’ve been pointing to a big spending disparity between Newt Gingrich and Romney on TV as a sign that Romney’s not the leaner, meaner and better candidate his team would have you believe.
On Tuesday, Romney’s campaign pushed back, telling reporters the tale of Romney’s big spending gap is overblown.
A Romney campaign source told me Tuesday morning that Democrats are making too big a deal out of the spending disparity. After all, the Romney campaign said, Gingrich didn’t have to deal with the unions.
AFSCME has been on air in Florida for 10 days, spending about a million bucks on a broadcast, cable and internet campaign tying Romney to unpopular Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R). AFSCME told me that around $900,000 of that total has been spent on TV. The union says their ad was “just taking advantage of an opportunity when voters were paying attention to Romney’s record.” The Romney campaign counts it as part of the negative campaigning they faced on the airwaves down here.
The Romney campaign said that, in total, ads from Gingrich, plus Gingrich’s allied super PAC, plus the AFSCME campaign added up to about $4 million in the last week. Meanwhile, Romney’s spending plus that of his super PAC eclipsed that at $6.6 million.
That argument, however, rests on accepting certain implicit assumptons that don’t strike everyone as reasonable.
First, take the Romney’s camp’s insistence that the labor union AFSCME in effect counts as being pro-Newt. The Miami Herald holes in that argument back when it first reported on the AFSCME ad. The spot, which is hard-hitting and can be seen on TV pretty regularly here, has one flaw according to the paper: “Republicans probably don’t care.”
In an email to TPM the Gingrich campaign shrugged off Team Romney’s AFSCME argument. “Who are they?” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond joked.
The Romney campaign is also muddying the waters a bit by making this about the last week versus the entirety of the Florida campaign. Romney’s been spending big bucks her for weeks, where Gingrich’s campaign (and AFSCME’s for that matter) just spooled up after South Carolina. In total, according to the numbers that we got from the Democratic media observer Sunday, Romney’s campaign spending on TV plus that of his super PAC through today is around $15.3 million. The total spending by Gingrich’s campaign, his allied super PAC and, for good measure, AFSCME? Around $4.3 million.
A very big gap, by any measure — and one that his opponents are likely to keep harping on as Romney tries to build up as Romney tries to spin his expected win here tonight.