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In Iowa Ads, Candidates Stay Mostly Positive as Super PACs Do the Attacking

December 28, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Pushing closer to the Iowa Caucuses, GOP presidential candidates and the outside groups supporting them are pouring money into TV and radio ads -- spending more than $10 million in December alone. Judy Woodruff and Ken Goldstein of the Campaign Media Analysis Group discuss the potential outcome of all this spending.

JUDY WOODRUFF: With less than a week to go until the Iowa caucuses, Republican presidential candidates and the outside groups supporting them are pouring money into television and radio ads throughout the state.

In December, the candidates and their committees spent more than $10 million combined. Rick Perry’s campaign spent the most, almost $3 million. Ron Paul and Mitt Romney spent more than $1 million each. And Newt Gingrich trailed the pack, spending $726,000 in Iowa this month. The Bachmann and Santorum campaigns did not make their figures public. And Jon Huntsman is not competing in the state.

The outside groups known as super PACs, or political action committees, also laid down big money. A group supporting Romney spent close to $3 million, while a similar group backing Perry spent $1.3 million. And just today, a Gingrich super PAC put an ad worth almost $250,000 up on the Iowa airwaves.

We look closer now with Ken Goldstein, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising.

Ken Goldstein, good to see you.

Let me just start by asking about how this spending compares with previous campaigns. And what does it say about the health of these campaigns?

KEN GOLDSTEIN, Kantar Media: Well, the advertising air war in Iowa was very late to start this year.

So when all is said and aired, we’re going to have less spending in Iowa this cycle than we saw in 2007 leading up to the 2008 Iowa caucuses, even if we just look at the Republican side. But, as those numbers — you were saying before, the campaigns and their group allies are absolutely fully engaged at the very, very, very highest levels here for this last couple weeks and last week of the campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s start out by taking a look at two spots here. We’re going to show two spots, one run by the Mitt Romney campaign and the other run by the so-called super PAC, political action committee, that is independent, but it’s running ads on his behalf. Let’s take a look at those now.

MITT ROMNEY (R): I’m going to do something to government. I’m going to make it simpler and smaller and smarter, getting rid of programs, turning programs back to states, and finally making government itself more efficient.

I’m going to get rid of Obamacare. It’s a moral imperative for America to stop spending more money than we take in. It’s killing jobs and it’s keeping our kids from having the bright prospects they deserve. The experience of balancing budgets is desperately needed in Washington, and I will take it there.

I’m Mitt Romney, and I approve this message.

NARRATOR: Why is this man smiling? Because his plan is working. Brutally attack Mitt Romney and help Newt Gingrich as his opponent. Why? Newt has a ton of baggage, like that fact that Gingrich was fined $300,000 for ethics violations or that he took at least $1.6 million from Freddie Mac just before it helped cause the economic meltdown.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Ken Goldstein, the first ad clearly pro-Romney, all positive. The second one contrasts Newt Gingrich, tough on Newt Gingrich. What does that tell you about the role these super PACs are playing?

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Yes, very interesting. Putting those two ads together is almost going to tell you exactly what’s going to happen, what we’re going to see in 2012 with advertising in general.

You see the ad paid for by the Romney campaign, Mitt Romney speaking in his own words, making a little bit of an attack on Obama, but a positive ad, talking about Mitt Romney, his plans, and then his group allies hitting Newt Gingrich and hitting Newt Gingrich pretty hard. And I think that’s what we’re going to see — not only what we have seen in Iowa, but what we’re going to see down the line is groups are going to be a very, very big player in the 2012 advertising air war.

And I think you’re going to see the campaigns generally going positive, having the candidates speak in their own words, and then having the groups do the attacking.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Alright, let’s see whether this is another example. This first one the — the next one we’re going to show is an ad run by the Gingrich campaign. And as we pointed out, they have been short of money compared to the other campaigns.

And then just today, a group supporting Newt Gingrich, an outside super PAC, began running another ad. So we are going to run the Gingrich ad and then the super PAC ad. Let’s look at that now.

NEWT GINGRICH (R): These are challenging and important times for America. We want and deserve solutions. Others seem to be more focused on attacks rather than moving the country forward. That’s up to them. I believe bold ideas and new solutions will unleash America’s creative spirit.

When I was speaker, our budget was balanced, and 11 million jobs were created. We can do it again and rebuild the America we love.

I’m Newt Gingrich, and I approve this message.

NARRATOR: The Republican establishment wants to pick our candidate. When a principled conservative took the lead, they outspent Newt Gingrich 20-1, attacking him with falsehoods. Conservatives need someone who has fought for us.

Newt balanced the federal budget, reformed welfare, cut taxes and created 11 million new jobs. Newt will take on radical judges and fight against abortion. Don’t let the liberal Republican establishment pick our candidate.

Newt Gingrich.

Winning Our Future is responsible for the content of this message.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Ken Goldstein, that second spot, as we said, the Gingrich folks — or the pro-Gingrich super PAC just able to get that up today, it’s our understanding, so very late in the cycle, and, again, contrasting with the Gingrich campaign spot.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Right. So, you have Gingrich the candidate going positive, and then his — the group supporting him going negative.

But it’s not a particularly focused or devastating negative attack on a particular Republican candidate. I think it uses the term liberal Republican establishment. The ad talks about Gingrich being outspent 20-1.

What’s interesting is Gingrich has been outspent in ads about him by over 10-1. So, there’s certainly been other spending there, but there’s been ten times as much money spent on messages, on TV advertising messages criticizing Newt Gingrich than on messages defending Newt Gingrich. And that’s obviously taken its toll in Iowa.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That super PAC ad on his behalf is almost a defensive ad.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Yes, it is a defensive ad. And, listen, there’s a lot of ways to deal with negative ads.

Usually, the best way is to not to complain about them. Usually, you want to either take the specific charges on head on, or hit back pretty hard at the people who are making those attacks against you. And those ads to me seem to be sort of in that middle ground, maybe neither here nor there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Okay. So, Ken, finally, we’re going to look at two more spots. One is being run by the Ron Paul campaign, and the second one by Rick Perry, who is spending a lot of money in Iowa. Let’s look at those now.

MAN: Everything that Gingrich railed against when he was in the House, he went the other way when he got paid to go the other way.

MAN: You’re an embarrassment to our party.

WOMAN: He’s flipped and flopped based on who’s paying him.

MAN: He’s demonstrating himself to be the very essence of the Washington insiders.

MAN: It’s about serial hypocrisy.

NEWT GINGRICH: It’s wrong to go around and adopt radically different positions, because then people have to ask themselves, what will you tell me next time?

NARRATOR: If Washington’s the problem, why trust a congressman to fix it? Among them, they’ve spent 63 years in Congress, leaving with us debt, earmarks and bailouts. Congressmen get $174,000 a year, and you get the bill. We need a solution.

GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas: That’s the reason I have called for a part-time Congress. Cut their pay in half. Cut their time in Washington in half. Cut their staff in half. Send them home.


GOV. RICK PERRY: Let them get a job like everybody else back home.

I’m Rick Perry, and I approve this message.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Ken Goldstein, Newt Gingrich taking two more hits in those campaigns directly from Ron Paul, and then, in the second spot from Rick Perry, he’s going after anybody who’s had anything to do with Congress.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, absolutely.

So, that’s a very, very focused attack by Ron Paul on Newt Gingrich. And the Rick Perry campaign and the Rick Perry — Rick Perry group supporting him, Make Us Great Again, have spent an awful lot of money. They were the ones who were on the air earliest in Iowa and have spent the most in Iowa.

The Ron Paul and that Rick Perry attack ads or negative ads are interesting, because as Ron Paul takes on Gingrich, as Rick Perry takes on everybody in that ad, sometimes, it’s hard to know who an ad like that benefits in a primary. It’s not like a general election, where it’s me against you. If I take support away from you, it comes to me. If you take support away from me, it goes to you.

In a multi-candidate primary, or a multi-candidate caucus, like we’re seeing in Iowa, you can go after candidate A. It might not help you. It could help some of the other candidates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Ken, finally, there’s one of the candidates who spent very little money on advertising, in fact, as far as we know, has only had one spot up. That’s Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator — today, a new CNN/”TIME” magazine poll showing he is actually rising in favorability in Iowa, coming in third after Romney and Ron Paul, and now Santorum pushing Gingrich — or Gingrich, meanwhile, dropping.

How do you explain that with Santorum, when he’s had so little on television?

KEN GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, it’s interesting.

I think it speaks to that last point we were talking about. And so we will see if Santorum is able to keep his — the trend that he’s got going now. We’ve certainly seen candidates come and go in this Roman candle primary season, where candidates tend to sky up and then explode and come down.

But it reminds me a lot of what we saw in the 2004 Iowa caucuses on the Democratic side, when Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt were the front-runners all along. Then Gephardt and Dean went after each other. People called it a murder/suicide. And Gephardt and Dean basically knocked each other out, and John Kerry and John Edwards ended up coming in one and two in Iowa, coming on very late, about this same time in the cycle as we’re seeing now leading up to the Iowa caucus.

So, all of these ads that are attacking candidates one, two, three and four, maybe it gives a chance for Rick Santorum, who, as you said, has barely spent any money getting his message out in television, to be a second or third choice of Iowa caucus-goers.

But, again, let’s see if those numbers hold up. People have come up, people have come down in this roller coaster of a caucus or primary season so far.

JUDY WOODRUFF: They sure have. That, in fact, is the signature of this Republican contest.

Ken Goldstein, thank you very much.