TV battleground: GOP campaigns prepare for ad war

By Beth Fouhy

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 13 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this Oct. 11, 2011 file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, turns to shake New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's hand after he endorsed Romney for president in Lebanon, N.H. Romney now seems firmly in command of the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination, three months before the voting begins. He’s getting the GOP establishment to coalesce behind him. He’s turning in strong debate performances. And he’s looking strong in early voting states.

Stephan Savoia, File, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Brace yourselves for the attack ads.

Rick Perry's Social Security plan might cost Florida its entire public education and prison systems. Mitt Romney is the flip-flopper responsible for "Obamacare." Or so declare just two presidential campaign videos on the Web.

Going after the president and each other, Republican candidates have been test-driving themes and previewing attack lines online for months, foreshadowing the TV ad war that's all but certain to start soon in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early voting states.

With less than three months before voting begins in GOP nomination contests, the candidates' pitches and criticism will be streaming into voters' homes, either by the campaigns or outside groups working on their behalf.

For a change, TV ads from the candidates so far this year have been scarce.

Some contenders, such as Romney, are stockpiling cash for a long nomination battle and waiting for voters to start paying attention to the race in earnest. After all, TV ads are one of the most costly expenses of any campaign.

Most GOP candidates, like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, simply don't have the cash to wage an aggressive TV effort. Texas Rep. Ron Paul has done limited advertising in Iowa and New Hampshire, and has the money to go back on the air. Others, primarily Perry, could run TV ads sooner rather than later as they look to change the dynamics of the race.

"A smart ad campaign can absolutely put Perry back in the game," says Mark McKinnon, who was media strategist for Republican President George W. Bush's campaigns. "He is supposed to be the voice of the anti-Washington crowd, but the debates took him off track. Television can get him back on the rails."

The Texas governor's campaign, which is sitting on $15 million in cash, hints that TV ads are coming soon following state and national polls that show him badly trailing Romney after a series of weak debate performances.

Spokesman Mark Miner won't say exactly when Perry ads will begin. He will say, "Mitt Romney has more in common with President Obama than he does with Republican primary voters."

Perhaps previewing upcoming ads, the Perry campaign released a scathing Web video earlier this week comparing Romney's successful push for health care overhaul in Massachusetts to President Barack Obama's federal health care law, which conservatives deplore. With dramatic music playing in the background, the ad shows a news clip of Romney declaring "I like mandates" and features voice-overs from a news commentator saying "Romney has flip-flopped on so many issues."

Amid the fast-moving images, a message crawls across the screen: "Even the richest man can't buy back his past."

The Perry campaign also produced a hard-hitting Web video criticizing Obama. It pairs the president's voice with scenes of city graffiti and abandoned homes, then cuts to images of farms, and American flags waving in the breeze intercut with clips of Perry announcing his candidacy. "It's time to get America working again," he says, reinforcing his campaign's signature theme.

Romney's Web videos have focused mainly on criticizing Obama for his handling of the economy, using the slogan "Obama Isn't Working." Romney released one of those Thursday, assailing the president on international trade, coinciding with a speech Romney was delivering on trade.

But Romney has also gone after Perry.

In one video, directed at retiree-rich Florida, Romney highlights Perry's proposal to let the states take over Social Security.

"What could that look like?" the ad asks, suggesting the financial shortfall would be so great in Florida that the state might have to eliminate public education and its prison system to make up the difference.

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