This was telegraphed a long time ago. It has been abundantly clear that the super PACS and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney were feverishly focusing on raising every single penny they possibly could so they could batter the Democratic ticket to pieces in the final weeks with ads. And so it shall unfold:
Republican nominee Mitt Romney and his allies are banking heavily on a high-risk, high-reward media strategy in the final weeks of the campaign, hoping that burying President Obama in ads will give them a crucial edge on Election Day.
Ad purchases in the presidential race doubled or in some cases tripled last week in swing states such as Colorado, Florida, Iowa and Virginia, tracking data show. The surge is being driven by Romney and well-funded allies, who decided against running more ads earlier in the campaign in favor of a big bang at the end.
Restore Our Future, a super PAC dedicated to helping Romney, has booked $14 million worth of ads in nine states for the final week of October — more than it spent on ads during the month of September. The group is also ramping up its spending, airing a mix of ads criticizing Obama and extolling Romney in Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia.
Charles R. Spies, the super PAC’s treasurer, said conservative groups “have been very effective in leveling the playing field” with Obama. “That effort will continue at an increasing level going forward,” he said.
The GOP effort has gained momentum with Romney’s advance in the polls since the first presidential debate in Denver, where Obama turned in a widely panned performance. The Oct. 3 event sparked an influx of donations to Romney’s campaign and to conservative groups supporting him, giving them more resources for the final push, strategists said.
The ramped-up advertising by Republicans left Obama behind his GOP foes in total ad expenditures last week for the first time since the summer, though he has massive cash reserves after raising $181 million in September. Obama and his key outside ally, the Priorities USA Action super PAC, have kept up a steady barrage ads attacking Romney in Ohio and other battlegrounds.
Democrats and even some Republicans argue that the Romney team, particularly the campaign itself, wasted a key opportunity by ceding the ad advantage to Obama from late August through September, which coincided with a boost in the polls for the president.
But the political context has now changed.
Obama’s tepid first debate performance — he seemed to be imitating either a doormat or someone in a meditation session — has led to an implosion of his polls. And despite Vice President Joe Biden’s aggressive Vice Presidential debate performance, coupled by Democratic partisans insisting that the “bleeding” is being stopped, polls continue to show Obama taking a hit in swing states and the New York Times’ Nate Silver is no longer sounding as assured that Obama is most likely to triumph in the end.
The political context has changed.
It is not longer a case of Romney frittering away months while the Dems defined him and Obama’s poll numbers grew. Now Obama is facing poll erosion. To wit:
What a difference a debate makes.
Republican Mitt Romney has opened a large, 7 percentage-point lead over President Barack Obama in must-win Florida, according to a new poll of likely voters conducted for The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.
Romney’s 51-44 percent advantage is just on the cusp of the poll’s error margin — and it marks a dramatic 8-point shift since last month.
“Obama’s now swimming upstream,” said Brad Coker, pollster with Mason Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the survey of 800 likely Florida voters this month and last for The Herald and its news partners, including Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13.
The previous poll, which showed Obama with an inside-the-error-margin lead, was before last Wednesday’s debate when Obama gave a lackluster performance while Romney appeared to excel.
This latest poll showed that 5 percent of those who said they were undecided before the debate say they’ll vote for Romney. And 4 percent of those who said they favored Obama pre-debate moved away from the president — 2 percent toward Romney and 2 percent undecided.
“Obama didn’t flip one voter,” Coker said. “He didn’t gain 1 percent from the debate.”
Even Democrats were upset with Obama’s performance.
“I was disappointed,” said Phyllis Apple, a 90-year-old Democrat from Aventura. “He didn’t look like he was ready to fight. Maybe the president thought it wouldn’t look presidential.”
A top political advisor to the president, David Plouffe, acknowledged that the debate was a “wake-up call” and that the race has tightened. But, he said, he believes in the campaign’s message and its vast volunteer army that can turn out nontraditional voters who don’t necessarily get picked up in polls such as this one.
“That’s where there are real gains for us. We’ve got to find them,” Plouffe said. As for Romney’s surge, Plouffe said, “Romney picked up his easy gains … We think the Romney gains have stopped.”
So these ads will come as the Obama campaign struggles to regain their lost footing — or, at the least, not to lose more footing.
Which means unless the Obama campaign has a counter campaign set up or Democratic Super PACS will jump into the fray, these ads could continue to make the race more difficult for Obama than it seemed it was going to be heading into the first debate with Romney.
And he debate Romney again this week. Which side will be better prepared to handle what the other side tries to do?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.