What ‘carpet-bombing’ can do for a campaign

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With Florida’s Republican presidential primary just a day away, it’s worth pausing to appreciate how it’s the mirror opposite of what we saw in South Carolina. A week ahead of the primary in the Palmetto State, Mitt Romney enjoyed a big lead, only to see it evaporate as the election drew closer. In Florida, Newt Gingrich was on top a week ago, and it now appears all but certain he’ll finish a disappointing second.

We have a fairly good sense of why Romney’s support fell in South Carolina – a couple of weak debate performances undermined his standing – but how did Romney bounce back quickly in the Sunshine State? Two words: his wallet.

Gingrich argued on ABC yesterday that Romney is likely to win this primary because he’s “carpet-bombing with negative ads,” financed “with Wall Street money.” This may sound like an excuse from a bitter candidate, but Gingrich has a point.

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.

Estimates vary on exactly how much more Romney has spent in Florida, but the enormous gap is hard to miss. TPM’s figures say pro-Romney spending outpaced pro-Gingrich spending, $15.3 million to $3.4 million. NBC News totals put it closer to $16.9 million to $4 million. As of Friday, the New York Times pointed to a $15 million to $2.5 million gap.

We’ll know more about the precise figures once the dust settles on the race, but the larger point is hard to miss: Romney is thriving because he has the resources to buy an impressive win.

In a general election against a well-financed incumbent president, this financial edge will largely disappear.

What 'carpet-bombing' can do for a campaign

Updated