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Floridians brace for onslaught of GOP campaign ads

By Scott Powers, The Orlando Sentinel –

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida couch potatoes, it’s your turn now to watch a seemingly endless barrage of campaign commercials — especially ads supporting Mitt Romney and bashing his rivals — as the four remaining Republican candidates sprint toward the Jan. 31 presidential primary.

The Romney-supporting super PAC Restore Our Future has bought more than $3 million of TV time in Florida just in the past 10 days, including $1.5 million spent Wednesday. Most of those spots — targeting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — were to start running Sunday, the day after South Carolina’s primary.

Romney himself has also bought TV time. Statewide totals are not available, but the former Massachusetts governor spent more than $250,000 just in the Orlando market for the week ending Tuesday.

And though Romney is the only individual candidate who has bought ads — his have been up for the past four weeks — expect to see commercials for Gingrich, Santorum and — maybe — U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas this week. Their super PACs also are expected to buy time.

Florida has 10 independent television markets, making it one of the most expensive states in the country for candidates to run statewide TV campaigns.

“They’re going to go for broke in Florida, because Florida is such a symbol of Republican strength,” said University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus. “The Republicans know if you don’t win in Florida, you don’t win the White House.”

Super PACs first became major players in the 2010 elections after the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Citizens United case, ruled in 2009 that corporations and individuals could spend as much as they wanted on “independent” political ads. And they’ve been the story of this political year so far.

Super PACs — mostly the Romney-backing Restore Our Future — spent more than $5.3 million leading up to Iowa’s Jan. 3 caucus. Gingrich blamed the hammering he took for his rapid fall from first in the polls to fourth in the voting. In New Hampshire, the super PACs spent more than $18 million, according to ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit, Internet-based news organization.

In the days leading up to both states’ contests, all available TV commercial time slots were purchased.

The candidates and super PACs spent about $12 million in South Carolina, a far-less-expensive media state. More than $7.6 million of that was by super PACs, according to ProPublica.

Restore Our Future already has spent more money in Florida than the $2.8 million it laid out in South Carolina. Its two most recent Sunshine State buys totaled $3.2 million, bringing its total to more than $4 million here, according to Federal Election Commission records covering campaign spending through Jan. 20.

The super PAC and Romney combined have been spending about $300,000 a week on TV ads in the Orlando market since the last week of December. Romney’s ads are gauzy testaments to his “constancy” and 42-year marriage, while Restore Our Future has hammered Gingrich and Santorum as “Washington insiders,” calling Gingrich a man with “more baggage than the airlines.”

Paul’s campaign announced it would skip Florida, but a pro-Paul super PAC, Endorse Liberty, has made a small purchase. That group bought $67,000 worth of time next week on WHDT, an independent TV station serving Miami and West Palm Beach.

Also, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees super PAC, a Democratic-leaning organization tied to the public-employees labor union, is ready to air a reported $800,000 worth of spots attacking Romney’s alleged “corporate greed.” AFSCME had not yet filed its full report with the FEC, but Orlando stations report at least $280,000 worth of time was purchased for spots running Monday through Jan. 31.

The pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future, backed by a $5 million contribution from casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, aired the controversial — and factually misleading — 29-minute anti-Romney documentary called “King of Bain” in South Carolina. The film was so widely criticized that Gingrich himself — speaking publicly in Orlando last week to get around the legal prohibition against “coordinating” with the super PAC — told sponsors he wanted them to edit out misstatements or stop airing it.

Gingrich’s super PAC had not purchased any spots in Florida, at least through last Thursday, according to FEC filings. Neither had the pro-Santorum super PAC, the Red White and Blue Fund.

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