Winning Big by Going Negative

Talk to Newt Gingrich's supporters in Florida, and you'll likely hear someone bemoan the negative tone of the presidential campaign. They're sick of the attacks, both against Gingrich by the super PACs and Romney himself, but some also say they dislike the idea of negativity in general, even when it's done by their preferred candidate.

Peg Bradley was "infuriated" when I spoke with her after a Mitt Romney rally on the Space Coast last Friday. In her view, Romney and Gingrich are ripping apart the Republican Party with their "divisive" attacks both "twisting the other one's record." She wanted to hear what Romney had to say in person but considered her vote pretty much decided. "Because Romney's super PAC started it all, I'm voting Gingrich."

Romney's supporters did, indeed, start the fight, and they're also the ones who have continued throwing punches at Gingrich even after it became clear that he was down for the count. Democratic sources gave Talking Points Memo's Evan McMorris-Santoro their internal numbers on Florida ad spending, and if accurate, there is a staggering gap between spending by Romney and Gingrich's respective camps. Romney and his affiliated super PACs have invested more than $15 million in Florida, while Gingrich's side has barely eked out $3 million in Sunshine State spending.

Gingrich has plummeted in the polls as a result. After an immediate post-South Carolina bounce, Gingrich's standing in Florida has continually dropped. I've seen the occasional pro-Gingrich or anti-Romney ad, but practically every time I have turned on a hotel TV, this ad run directly by the Romney campaign shows up. Voters who populate these early states may hate this sort of barrage but, based on the polls, it's pretty clear that they get the job done.