They say that money can’t buy happiness, but the Florida G.O.P. primary shows once again that it can buy elections. Unlike the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, winning Florida with its large and diverse population can not be accomplished by “retail campaigning.” It’s impossible to reach enough voters to make a difference by shaking hands and scheduled appearances. The only way to influence people is through the media, which means the more money, the more exposure.
After Newt Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina, one would have thought his momentum would have led to a surge in his numbers in Florida, another Southern state that elected a conservative Republican governor and senator in 2010. Indeed, Gingrich was ahead of Romney by 9 percentage points in Florida after his South Carolina win according to the Rasmussen Reports. However, massive spending on advertisements by the Romney campaign and the SuperPACs aligned with Romney, bombarded the airwaves with negative sound bites about Gingrich that transformed the outlook for the two candidates. As of January 29, the same Rasmussen poll had Romney leaving Gingrich in the dust, leading 44% to 28%, a stunning reversal in a short period of time.
But virtually unlimited funding can buy a lot of airtime on radio and TV, allowing Romney to constantly pound away at his opponent. ABC News has estimated that Romney and his SuperPACs have outspent Gingrich and his by a four to one ratio. And total spending by the two campaigns in Florida has been projected at over $22 million.
On local, network and cable TV stations, Romney ads have been appearing eight to ten times as frequently as those of Gingrich. Day after day, hour after hour, the Romney machine has blasted away at Gingrich, an unending stream of negative messages that have taken a toll on the former House Speaker. Gingrich has been called an influence peddler, his role with Freddie Mac highlighted, the $1.6 million he received in fees contrasted with the housing mess in Florida. His ethics problems while in Congress with the $300,000 fine have also been featured in numerous advertisements. To target the large Latino population, the reports that Gingrich had called Spanish the language of the ghetto were repeatedly emphasized in the Hispanic media. With the barrage of damaging portrayals of Gingrich saturating the airwaves, is it any wonder that his image as a smart electable conservative has been torn to shreds.
The Romney campaign’s funding advantage has also produced a far superior organization, with many more boots on the ground to do canvassing, make phone calls, hand out flyers, get supporters to the polls, etc.
The developments in Florida have certainly pacified the Republican establishment that was fearful of Gingrich’s ascendancy. While Romney’s winning of the Republican presidential nomination is not yet a foregone conclusion, he will be well on his way to victory after the Florida primary. When differences among the candidates on important issues are relatively minimal, it’s evident once more that the deciding factor is who has the deepest pockets. Unfortunately, even more money will be spent and more negativity spewed forth when the general election campaign commences.
A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.