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Millions of dollars fuel onslaught of campaign TV ads in Florida

The onslaught has begun.

Millions of dollars in political ads are flooding Florida TV, including two new spots Wednesday by President Barack Obama's campaign and an anti-Obama ad from a super PAC, the new breed of political action committee powered by unrestricted donations.

The volleys come after several weeks of building intensity and set the table for a congested summer and fall in the country's largest swing state.

"Not only will it be incomparable, it's uncharted territory for everybody," said Florida Republican strategist Adam Goodman, who is concerned about finding air space for legislative and congressional races. "Your stuff is going to have to be pretty damn good to break through that clutter."

Obama's new spots, boasting about his support for military veterans with a reminder to voters about the killing of Osama bin Laden, and steps to preserve Medicare, closely follow the ad by the group Crossroads GPS depicting a fictional former Obama voter.

"I supported President Obama because he spoke so beautifully. He promised change," says a woman who ages before viewers. "But things changed, for the worse."

The ad is critical but deftly so, reflecting the desired target: swing voters who will likely decide the outcome in November. Despite a poor economy, Obama is still widely liked. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed 76 percent of Florida voters think he is likable, even if they favor Republican Mitt Romney in the election.

Get ready to see a lot of it. The Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS is spending $2.3 million to run the ad in Florida for three weeks, starting Wednesday. It's part of a $25 million campaign that Crossroads is pushing in 10 battleground states, matching the amount the Obama campaign said it would spend in key states this month.

Hours after the Crossroads ad was announced Tuesday, a rival super PAC released its own, a scathing attack on Romney's record at the private equity firm Bain Capital.

A laid-off worker at a paper plant in Indiana said she was left without health care. "When Mitt Romney did that, he made . . . ," she says with dramatic pause, "he made me sick."

It's the second Priorities USA Action ad in Florida seeking to paint Romney as a corporate raider.

Obama's Florida ads have been largely positive, however, touting his achievements. The campaign has also run several Spanish language spots.

Romney, by contrast, has been quiet in Florida. His first general election ad released last week was for Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa and Virginia. He can afford to wait, thanks to super PACs.

While Obama has spent $6.9 million in Florida, according to numbers compiled by The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd, which has access to internal media buying figures, a handful of conservative groups including Crossroads GPS and the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity have spent a total of $7.6 million in Florida. This month, the Romney-aligned super PAC Restore Our Future said it would invest $4 million in ads in nine battleground states, including Florida.

Even with the addition of Priorities USA Action spending on Obama's behalf, his campaign must confront a dramatically different landscape than in 2008, when it outspent GOP rival John McCain 3-to-1 in Florida.

Super PACs were unleashed by a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling two years ago that lifted century-old limitations on corporate money in federal elections by allowing businesses and labor unions to spend as much as they want directly in favor or against a candidate. Wealthy donors are bypassing traditional limits and campaign bureaucracies.

They usually align with the message of the candidate, but they can also cause complications.

Last week, the New York Times broke news of a proposal shopped to a Chicago businessman that called for highlighting Obama's past ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The incendiary ad was never fully developed but caused a few days of headaches for Romney, who denounced it.

"They can do a lot of damage," said Bill Allison, editorial director of the pro-transparency Sunlight Foundation in Washington, which tracks outside spending. But mostly, he said, "A candidate can benefit from a hugely negative campaign without having his fingerprints on it."

Allison's group says the rise of independent groups is troubling because some do not disclose donors, leaving voters unsure of the motivations behind the ads. Independent groups operated in past elections, most notably the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign that raised doubts about John Kerry's military record during the 2004 presidential election.

But the 2010 Citizens United decision led to the new class of super PACs that have proliferated and attracted unprecedented sums of money.

Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads are among the most prominent and powerful, with plans to raise up to $300 million to impact the election and frame the issue debates.

"Florida, in particular, is a state which has been greatly impacted by President Obama's failed promises on job creation, the debt, and other critical issues," said Crossroads spokesman Nate Hodson. "If we don't hold Washington politicians accountable, we won't fix these problems that are holding our country back."

Watch the ads

See some of the campaign ads at links.tampabay.com.

Millions of dollars fuel onslaught of campaign TV ads in Florida 05/23/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 11:03pm]
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