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Super PACs Supporting Gingrich Find Limits

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Super PACs supporting former Speaker Newt Gingrich for president are finding that there are limits to how much they can affect the race for the Republican nomination. Because of rules barring super PACs from coordinating with candidates, the groups cannot always determine how best to help a candidate.

But Florida’s large, fragmented media market, combined with its diverse electorate, forces presidential contenders to spend both heavily and effectively, Tallahassee lobbyist and GOP strategist Mac Stipanovich said. In the case of Winning Our Future, Stipanovich said, “it was too little, too late.”

Stipanovich added, “You can’t do it in 10 days, and you can’t do it with $5 million. Not in Florida … you can’t just leap out of the bushes and go: ‘Boo. Here’s my $5 million,’ and win the Republican primary in Florida for president.”

Winning our Future is one of three pro-Gingrich super PACs that has struggled to live up to its billing. Denver-based conservative strategist Charlie Smith told Roll Call in November that he was launching a super PAC dubbed Solutions 2012 to rally tea party support behind Gingrich. But that PAC has made zero campaign expenditures since then, Federal Election Commission records show.

Another pro-Gingrich super PAC, Strong America Now, spent about $217,000 on direct mail in Iowa and South Carolina, FEC records show, but the PAC has reported no activity since then.

“Florida was a golden opportunity that seems to have been lost for Gingrich,” said Michael Franz, associate professor of government at Bowdoin College. Gingrich and his allies had too little time to build an effective ground game, Franz said.

“It’s probably hard for these groups to convince volunteers to work for them and not the candidate,” Franz said of super PACs. “So there is probably going to be more startup cost for a super PAC than for a candidate.”

In this unpredictable GOP primary, Gingrich could still deliver a surprise reversal of Romney’s double-digit lead in the polls. Super PACs are a new and largely untested campaign tool, Malbin noted, and they may yet prove capable of moving beyond broadcast ads to effectively turn out voters in the field. But he said the rules barring super PACs from coordinating with candidates by definition limit their scope.

“You really want to know which neighborhoods to work, you want to know where the candidate is going to be,” he said. “You can’t really make those decisions on the fly on the basis of newspaper reports and be as effective as you would be if you had inside knowledge.”

Winning Our Future Managing Director Gregg Phillips said running a super PAC is not that different from running any other kind of political campaign, but he acknowledged a key difference: “We’re spending a lot of our time acting like a campaign without a candidate, if you will.”

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