1. Tracking Romney’s ad buys:
Look at the remaining Republican primary calendar dates and the candidates’ respective strengths and do the math: There are certain states where Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich seem to have the best chance later this winter and spring (assuming one or both stay in the race) of winning enough delegates to deny Mitt Romney the majority he needs to lock up the nomination before the convention. These include Georgia (76 delegates, Super Tuesday – Mar. 6), Ohio (66 delegates, Super Tuesday) Tennessee (58 delegates, Super Tuesday), Alabama (50 delegates on Mar. 13), Texas (a huge 155 delegates on Apr. 3), Pennsylvania (72 delegates on Apr. 24), and California (an enormous 172 delegates on June 5).
Here’s an angle on these contests that could provide not only a heads-up on where the most dramatic showdowns might occur but also another dimension to the story of how outside money and negative ads have pretty much taken over the process: Some smart political reporting unit should be bird-dogging the ad sales people for local television stations in markets in those states, looking to find out if the Romney campaign and allied super PAC are buying enough ad time right now to carry out against Santorum or Gingrich the same kind of carpet bombing they did in Florida, where a reported $15.3 million ad buy buried Gingrich.
Following the scare produced by the loss in South Carolina, the Romney team proved in Florida that it could and would spend whatever it takes to snuff out the strongest not-Romney contender. To take one example of what it would mean for Romney to use that formula in upcoming contests, it costs more to blanket Texas with ads than it does Florida, and there is a longer run-up to that race than there was between South Carolina and Florida. That could translate into an ad spend of $40 million or $50 million across the Lone Star State.
Buying that much time in a compressed period takes lots of planning and purchase orders in multiple media markets, and it completely upends the advertising and media business in these locales. Which means that if it’s happening, a good reporter should be able to get ad sales people in various Texas markets to talk about it. Local advertisers and ad agencies, which will see their own rates and schedules affected, will also be good sources. Ditto local media markets across Georgia, Pennsylvania or any of these other battlegrounds.
In fact, because delegates are often awarded in large part on a winner-take-all basis by congressional district, as opposed to statewide, and because the Romney people are organized enough to be focused on these kinds of details, the best place to look for Romney saturation buys aimed at creating delegate-sensitive firewalls would be in media markets in congressional districts in states such as California or Georgia that are rated as toss-ups.