* Romney and allies continue to far outspend Santorum
* Santorum, Romney Super PACs build up Ohio presence
* Pro-Gingrich Super PAC returns after new donation
By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON, March 1 Even as Republican
front-runner Mitt Romney's opponents nip at his heels in the
state-by-state march toward the party nomination, he and his
"Super PAC" allies remain comfortably ahead in their ability to
outspend rival presidential hopefuls.
The advantage is now showcased in Ohio - the biggest prize
in next week's "Super Tuesday" showdown when 10 states vote for
the Republican party nominee - where Romney and his supporters
are outspending main rival Rick Santorum and his backers in TV
advertising by a margin of almost four-to-one.
The pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future, has spent $2.2
million on ads in Ohio, alongside $1.3 million laid out by the
Romney campaign itself on TV and cable spots in the state,
according to the Super PAC's spokeswoman and a Republican media
buyer who tracks campaign spending.
The pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund on Thursday
doubled its Ohio TV spending to $514,000, according to adviser
Stuart Roy. The Santorum campaign itself has invested some
$410,000 in cable ads there, according to the buyer's data.
Super PACs are fundraising organizations that operate
independently from individual candidate's campaigns and can
raise unlimited amounts from individuals, corporations and
unions and spend to support candidates or issues.
Big spending on negative ads against his Republican
opponents has kept former Romney, a former Massachusetts
governor, ahead of the pack for most of the nomination race. His
financial clout was most notable in the Jan. 31 primary in
Florida where the he and his Super PAC spent heavily on negative
ads to defeat Newt Gingrich.
Restore Our Future is edging toward $6 million in
spending on TV ads in four of the 10 "Super Tuesday" states:
Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Georgia. Most of it is aimed at
attacking Santorum with spots painting him as a Washington
insider with a big-spending voting record from his time as a
A new Restore Our Future ad out on Thursday claims Santorum
is not so conservative as he makes out to be.
Polls show the two men running a close race in Ohio, a
critical swing state in November's general election against
President Barack Obama.
"Ohio is viewed as, if you can win Ohio then you can point
to it and beat your chest and say I can win in the fall," said
Terry Casey, a Republican analyst in Columbus, the state's
SANTORUM TRIES TO CATCH UP
Santorum's fund goes after Romney as well as Gingrich in one
of the ads for lacking the consistent conservative values and
economic plans to be able to tackle Obama.
Despite being way behind in spending on TV ads in Ohio,
Santorum and his backers have spent slightly more there on other
forms of advertising.
They have spend about $500,000 on direct mail and phone
calls to voters, compared to just under $200,000 on Internet and
direct mail advertising by Restore Our Future.
Helping bridge the Ohio spending gap slightly is a
conservative anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List that is
airing pro-Santorum ads on Ohio radio stations.
Similar to what they did in Michigan, where Santorum lost to
Romney by a slim margin in Tuesday's primary, the non-profit
group bought $200,000 worth of radio ads in Ohio, where its
leaders are now on a bus tour.
The group's originally heavily social message of Santorum's
conservative views of family and marriage is now sprinkled with
the reference to the candidate's economic plan, a paramount
issue to voters in Ohio, which has not regained the jobs lost
during the recession.
"(Santorum) is innovative in explaining that a foundation of
strong families is part of building a strong economy," said
Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and
Public Policy who is part of the bus tour.
The pro-Santorum PAC has yet to expand beyond Ohio, but is
eyeing Tennessee and Oklahoma, where Santorum is edging Romney
in the polls. The group has invested $230,000 in direct mail and
phone calls to voters in Tennessee and the less high-profile
states of North Dakota, Alaska, Idaho - all Super Tuesday states
- and Washington, which votes on Saturday, March 3.
Libertarian Ron Paul's campaign is the only challenger to
Santorum on the airwaves of Washington and Idaho, with an ad
called "Three of a Kind" hitting all of Paul's rivals for policy
The Gingrich campaign and his Super PAC had been on a
weeks-long hiatus from advertising, apparently running low on
cash. His PAC, Winning Our Future, has now been resurrected,
thanks to its single largest donor, Las Vegas casino mogul
Following news that he wrote a new check to the PAC, Winning
Our Future has now reported spending nearly $3 million
on advertising in the very same four "Super Tuesday" states of
Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Gingrich's home state of Georgia,
where the stakes for him are highest.
The group on Thursday also reported buying $1.1 worth of ads
in Kansas, which votes on March 10, and Mississippi and Alabama,
which vote on March 13.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Cohen; Editing by Philip