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The Globe and Mail

You can run, but you can't hide from GOP attack ads

An attack ad against Mitt Romney by Newt Gingrich super PAC.


There has been no safe haven on the dial for Floridians trying to escape Republican attack ads, save perhaps for those taking refuge in the Kardashians.

Talk about picking your poison.

A whopping 92 per cent of political advertising in Florida in the week up to Monday consisted of attack ads, according to the Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group. And if you think the assassin spots only ran during the news, think again.

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No segment of the television viewing population has escaped being subjected to the nasty tone of ads accusing Mitt Romney of taking "blood money" or Newt Gingrich of cashing in on the housing bubble that has left thousands of Floridians in foreclosure.

The attack ads have bumped the habitual spots for cars and dating sites on everything from "CSI" to The Weather Channel – both of which draw a demographic that votes more Republican than Democrat.

The nightly news remains a veritable blood bath with multiple attack ads for both leading candidates running in succession, while the show itself is largely devoted to footage of each candidate spewing venom about the other.

Indeed, sometimes it's hard to tell the news from the ads. Mr. Romney has come under fire from iconic former news anchor Tom Brokaw for running an ad – inescapable on Florida TV – that consists entirely a 1997 NBC News report on a move by the House of Representatives to reprimand Mr. Gingrich for ethics violations.

All is fair in the attack ads war, it seems, and a Super PAC supporting Mr. Gingrich has been running a slick spot accusing Mr. Romney of being involved with a company that was fined for Medicare fraud. It ends with the words "blood money" splashed on the screen.

The involvement of Super PACs in the 2012 race has radically transformed the way campaigns are run and financed. Super PACs have been freed by court rulings from limits on donations and spending, as long as they do not formally coordinate their activities with the candidate they support.

But the rules are a minor inconvenience, since it does not take a rocket scientist to commission an ad that goes straight for a rival candidate's jugular.

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Restore Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Mr. Romney, has spent by far the most money on ads so far this election cycle, shelling out about $8-million (U.S.) on almost 13,500 ads in the primary states Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, Arizona and Michigan, according to a study released Monday by Wesleyan Media Project.

(The figures only account for spending up to Jan. 25 and do not capture the millions spent or thousands of ads run in the past six days in Florida media markets.) Winning Our Future, the Super PAC supporting Mr. Gingrich, has spent much less than the pro-Romney pack, but last week purchased $6-million of advertising air time in Florida.

Luckily, for Floridians, it will be all over by Tuesday night, once Republicans have voted in the state's primary.

But their reprieve will be short. It will all start up again within days as deep-pocketed outside groups try to influence voters in advance of the November the general election.

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