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Florida’s Political Ground Game is Just Heating Up

Presidential candidate spending on advertisements is just getting started.

If history is any indication, Tampa Bay area television viewers can expect to see more political ads in the coming weeks – a lot more.

According to Nielsen, 72,494 spot television ads were purchased directly by presidential candidates’ campaigns during the 2008 election year. The Tampa Bay region, which includes St. Petersburg and Sarasota, saw a total of 17,408 spot ads bought and run during the 2008 campaign. And those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. They don’t include syndicated spots, radio time or print and online advertising.

With Florida’s Presidential Preference Primary only days away, it’s a safe bet the number and frequency of ads will start to increase dramatically, experts say.

Even so, the numbers tracked by Nielsen thus far aren’t overwhelming. Statewide 821 television spots have been purchased this election year from September 2011 through Jan. 7, 2012. The Tampa Bay region has accounted for 214 of those ads.

Nielsen figures, however, only include television spots purchased by the Cain, Perry and Romney campaigns. Data was not available for other campaigns.

“I think it’s a safe bet that spending is substantially up from last year and especially if you link the Super PACs to the candidates,” said Dr. Seth McKee, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. “The latest I heard was that the Romney campaign has spent about $13 million and the Gingrich campaign is around $6 million.”

McKee anticipates the Tampa Bay area will see a lot more advertising and candidate visits as the 2012 election year really heats up.

“The ground game in the form of candidate visits shows a bias in favor of the pivotal and vote rich I-4 Corridor,” he said. “Because Romney has contested this state, has more money, and a much more established organization, I would suspect that he has a nontrivial number of volunteers assigned to mobilize voters. I doubt Gingrich can compete with Romney's ground game.”

So, what kinds of political ads can area residents expect to be inundated with?

“Because Florida is so populous, as usual, most of the spending is going to the air war; TV, Internet, radio,” McKee said.

Even so, McKee says debates are probably the most effective tool candidates have at their disposal. “And, of course, they’re free.”

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