Even before polls opened in Florida's Republican primary, some pundits were trying to explain a potential Newt Gingrich loss there by saying he'd been outspent.
Mike Allen's influential Politico Playbook daily morning email reported Monday, "Newt Gingrich has been outspent on the Florida airwaves by a nearly $12 million margin," about $15 million to about $3 million. The thought was echoed on Twitter by a political reporter for The New York Times, Nick Confessore, who asked, "Money carrying the day?" Mike Murphy, a political consultant who used to work for Mitt Romney, tweeted, "Mitt had 6 to 1 $$ advantage."
Don't believe it. If Romney does manage to win Florida and Gingrich does lose, the explanation is about the candidates' message, not the money. After all, Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses after being outspent there.
Sure, Florida's a more expensive market than Iowa is for paid television spots. But the value of the unpaid television news and other press exposure is far more than that of the campaign commercials. If Gingrich were a stronger candidate with a more resonant message, he might have used the televised debates and other appearances to connect with voters better.
In the closing stretch of the Florida campaign, Gingrich, instead of stressing his pro-growth plans to cut taxes, has remade himself as a kind of Occupy Wall Street Republican. "I do not believe Wall Street can give enough money to run enough negative ads to hide from the truth," Gingrich said Sunday at a rally in a retirement community. "Governor Romney has the ability to raise an amazing amount of money out of Wall Street, from Goldman Sachs, to all the major banks," Gingrich complained on Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace. Bloomberg News reported an interview it had with Gingrich by publishing a news article that began, "Newt Gingrich, accusing Republican presidential primary opponent Mitt Romney of being a 'fundamentally dishonest' tool of Wall Street, pledged to stop big banking firms such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. from 'rigging the game.'"
If voters are looking for a president to demonize Wall Street or major banks, they've got a perfectly fine incumbent in Barack Obama. For someone looking to unseat Obama, as Gingrich is, this line of attack doesn't exactly qualify as what they call in marketing a unique selling proposition.
The attacks on Wall Street undercut Gingrich's other anti-Romney message, that, as Gingrich put it in the same Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace appearance, "the only effective way to stop a Massachusetts liberal from becoming our nominee is to vote for Newt Gingrich." As Rick Santorum has effectively pointed out in the debates, though, Gingrich cut an anti-global-warming commercial with Democratic San Francisco congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, and Gingrich also, for decades, favored a federal individual mandate to purchase health insurance. Romney attacked Gingrich in one of last week's debates for showing up in Florida with a plan to colonize the moon, a plan calculated to appeal to voters in the Sunshine State's space coast by spending taxpayer dollars.
It's almost enough to make a listener think that the most important word in the sentence "the only effective way to stop a Massachusetts liberal from becoming our nominee is to vote for Newt Gingrich" is Massachusetts. Or, in other words, that what really troubles Gingrich about Romney isn't his liberalism (after all, Gingrich can far outdo him at Wall Street-bashing, the sine qua non of modern liberalism) but his home state.
The nice thing about these seemingly endless presidential campaigns is that over the long haul, amid the fatigue and high-stakes desperation of the series of primaries and caucuses and debates and interviews and campaign appearances, the core beliefs and characteristics of the candidates have a way of shining through. For this Newt Gingrich and the chroniclers of the campaign can blame not the negative campaign commercials that have been aired against Gingrich but rather the decisions, record, and words that are the candidate's own.