Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul also were participating in Thursday's debate, the final one before the GOP presidential primary in Florida on Tuesday. But both candidates have set their sights elsewhere and have largely stayed away from the Romney-Gingrich drama.
Whoever wins Florida will score something no one has yet claimed in a tumultuous primary season: a second victory. The first three contests have been won by three different candidates. Only Paul has yet to score a win.
The hits for Romney and Gingrich were coming from many directions.
The "super" political action committees backing them have spent more than $10 million combined on ads to date in Florida, far more than their respective campaigns. The Romney-leaning Restore Our Future has spent $8.8 million in ads as of late Tuesday, bringing to $14 million the total spent on ads supporting Romney in the state. That doesn't include money already spent on radio and Internet advertising.
As of late Tuesday, the Gingrich-backing Winning Our Future had booked $1.8 million in television ads in Florida, a check made possible by a new donation from Miriam Adelson. She and her husband, Sheldon, this month gave $5 million apiece to the group, which supports Gingrich but legally must remain independent.
Santorum, meanwhile, seemed to be recognizing that he stood almost no chance of winning Florida. He and his advisers planned no advertising in the state and instead were focused on raising money and calling potential supporters in upcoming states. He all but gave up trying to woo a network of pastors and was scaling back his schedule in Florida.
Chuck Laudner, an influential adviser who helped Santorum score an upset victory in the Iowa caucuses, was returning to the Midwest to start piecing together coalitions in Missouri and Minnesota. Both states have media markets that overlap with Iowa, where Santorum proved to be the big story.
Paul, virtually absent from Florida except for appearances built around the debates, was concentrating instead on caucus states where his loyal backers can carry a louder voice.
Associated Press writers Charles Babington, Philip Elliott, Kasie Hunt and David Espo in Florida contributed to this report. Jack Gillum contributed from Washington.
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