A third group, Restore Our Future, has spent about $20 million in the key general election battlegrounds after helping bury Romney's primary Republican rivals with negative ads during the nomination fight. This group was formed by several former top Romney advisers.
Americans for Prosperity, formed by the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, has spent over $15 million in swing states and purchased $25 million more to run from the coming week into early September. It's spent a more broadly than the others, buying advertising time in Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin in addition to the nine major swing states.
The group's upcoming buy includes New Mexico and Wisconsin but not Minnesota, which most strategists believe remains securely in Obama's camp. With so much money to spend, Romney and his allies can afford to run ads in those states simply to bait the president's team into spending money to defend itself.
The Obama campaign has not bought ads in New Mexico and has spent just about $600,000 in Wisconsin, suggesting his strategists don't believe those states are in play. Obama won both in 2008 and they're expected to stay Democratic this time.
The Republican National Committee has spent nearly $16 million in swing states on Romney's behalf. The Democratic National Committee is raising money in conjunction with the Obama campaign but has not run a separate ad campaign.
A few independent organizations have advertised in swing states for Obama but none with the heft and firepower of the Republican-leaning groups. The biggest pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has spent about $20 million on ads and has reserved $30 million more to run ads in six states in the fall.
Wilner of Kantar/CMAG said the advertising patterns both camps follow after their conventions will signal which states they believe are truly in play.
"If Romney begins to gain momentum, Michigan and Wisconsin may become competitive and North Carolina might be less of a draw for the president," Wilner said. "If the momentum is with Obama, we might see him advertise in Arizona. Both sides will stay off the air in Michigan, remain on the air in North Carolina, and do only low level advertising in Pennsylvania."
Beth Fouhy can be reached on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bfouhy
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