Will Romney's Strengths Prove Moot Against Obama?

Will Romney's Strengths Prove Moot Against Obama?

By David Paul Kuhn - January 31, 2012

Mitt Romney is winning the GOP race for two reasons: big money and weak competition. That should distress Republicans. Romney cannot rely on either advantage if he faces Barack Obama.

Winning early primaries should frame front-runners as winners. They should convey an aura of inevitability and electability. Romney is likely to blow away the competition in Florida tonight. But even that victory will provide scant evidence he can do the same to Obama.

Romney is not winning the GOP primary. The opposition is losing it.

Romney is not courting voters with a winning message. He’s overwhelming the airwaves with his message.

And what’s the message Romney will leave Floridians with? It’s not why Romney is good. It’s why his competition is bad. Over the past week, from Monday to Monday, Kantar Media estimates that more than nine-in-10 political television ads on the air in the Sunshine State were negative.

Romney has carpet-bombed the early primary states with advertising. In Florida alone, pro-Romney groups outspent pro-Gingrich groups by a nearly 5-to-1 ratio. Some estimate more. Kantar reports Romney and his allies spent $12 million on Florida ads compared to $1.8 million, spent by Gingrich and his allies, as of Sunday. Fox News’ “Special Report” cited a ratio nearer to 3-to-1, $17.8 million compared to $5.4 million. Regardless of the precise figures, Romney is overwhelming Gingrich on the airwaves. He would be lucky to match Obama dollar-for-dollar in a general election.

Romney’s recovery in the GOP race is, however, owed to more than money. Gingrich briefly led in Florida after South Carolina. Yet Romney owned the airwaves then too. Pro-Romney groups aired ads almost 13,000 times on broadcast television across the state compared to about 200 times by pro-Gingrich groups, as of Wednesday, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. But Gingrich was still then in contention.

The Florida difference was dollars and Gingrich. The former House speaker has relied on the free media from debates to offset Romney’s advantage in paid media. But Gingrich lost on both accounts in Florida.

South Carolina told another tale. Romney groups outspent Gingrich groups by about a 2-to-1 ratio in the state. Romney had seemingly won small in Iowa (we later learned he lost small) and won big New Hampshire. He came into South Carolina ahead in the polls. He had the Big Mo.

Then came the debates. Gingrich not only bested Romney, he provided sound bites -- attacking political correctness and an elite media -- that were looped from talk radio to cable news. It was prime red meat. And Republicans ate it up. On Election Day, Gingrich trounced Romney among conservatives. He also nearly split the minority of voters who identified as moderate or liberal. He won religious and secular alike. In other words, Gingrich proved more than a mere Romney alternative.

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David Paul Kuhn is a writer who lives in New York City. His novel, “What Makes It Worthy,” will be published in February 2015.

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