By Peter Overby
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's six primary wins on Super Tuesday didn't come cheap. An NPR analysis shows that last week alone, the Romney campaign and the pro-Romney superPAC combined spent nearly $7 million on TV ads.
Less than $1 million of that was spent by Romney's official campaign, while the pro-Romney superPAC Restore Our Future — which has almost exclusively engaged in negative advertising this year — spent $5.7 million.
That's compared to $220,000 spent on ads last week by the superPAC supporting former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
In anticipation of Tuesday's big showdown in Ohio, Romney and his supporters were spending to erase Santorum's lead in the state.
"Given what Romney spent in Ohio in the last week, at least we have one hypothesis about why he closed the gap," says John Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University who specializes in political advertising. "He simply outspent Santorum by, you know, a dramatic amount."
Still, Romney only won Ohio by less than 1 percent.
SuperPACS Doing The Dirty Work
NPR's analysis uses superPAC spending reports from the Federal Election Commission as well as data from the media tracking firm Kantar Media, as reported by The Washington Post. But what the analysis can't measure is the effectiveness of superPAC advertising. Interactive: January 2012 Day-To-Day Fundraising
"So instead they have to talk about earmarks and some other things that just don't really jibe," Geer says. "I think the spending that's going on, especially the negative ads, probably aren't having very much effect because they're picking at small things."
Then there's the argument that superPAC attack ads are having an impact on the contest — just not a very good one.
Benjamin Bates, a professor of communications at Ohio University, says candidates always want a surrogate speaker to make attacks on their behalf. This year, the newly created presidential superPACs have embraced that mission.
"By letting the superPAC take on that role, the surrogate is able to do all the dirty work on behalf of the candidate, which helps protect the attacker's image," Bates says.
Advertising by all of the superPACs has been overwhelmingly negative. But there's a problem there: The relentless negativity seems to discourage some people from voting.
According to Bates, turnout in Ohio was expected to go up this year compared to 2008 because of the competitive nature of the GOP race. Instead, turnout dropped about 5 percent. Bates thinks he knows why.
"The superPACs are definitely doing their job," he says. "Their job is to introduce negativity and to get people to stay home, and they seem to have done that very, very well."
As the primary battles rage on, that job continues. The pro-Romney superPAC has told the FEC that so far it has spent $1.3 million in Alabama and Mississippi — which hold their primaries next Tuesday — and the superPAC that backs former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reported spending $1.4 million in those states and Kansas, which votes on Saturday.