The $20 Million SuperPAC May Be Coming Too Late to Rescue Newt

Per Politico, casino magnate Sheldon Adelstien has pledged $20 million to a SuperPAC supporting Newt Gingrich:

Sources with direct knowledge of the $20 million figure, who requested anonymity, told POLITICO that Adelson planned to cut a check to one of the PACs as soon as this week.

A major contribution from Adelson would enable the recipient group to start airing ads in Iowa to counter a week-long anti-Gingrich on-air assault that is already taking a toll on his frontrunner status in the Hawkeye State, according to private and public polling.

It may not matter. There probably isn’t enough infrastructure in place or days on the calendar to spend it effectively in Iowa. And it’s hard to see Gingrich surviving a disappointing finish in Iowa unless Romney is completely pummeled and there is no momentum and no clear leaders.

To see Gingrich’s problem, look at the calendar. Today is December 15th. Even if the money moves to the SuperPAC today, there’s probably no way the SuperPAC can put together the buy and get it to the stations in Iowa until tomorrow if they’re miraculously lucky, so the buy most likely won’t be placed until Monday. Then, it will probably take a day or two before the stations can work the spots in to their rotations. Because they’re third-party ads rather than something coming from the candidate’s campaign, they’re more expensive, and the stations may not even be able to sell the inventory the SuperPAC requests.

Then there’s the time left. The Iowa caucuses are on January 3rd,  almost three weeks earlier this year than they were in 2004. Monday January 2nd is the last full day for television advertising. That means if the pro-Gingrich SuperPAC goes on the air on Tuesday, they’ll have 14 days on which to run ads before votes are cast in Iowa. But they’re a horrible 14 days. Tuesday through Friday will probably have lower-than-usual viewership because of Christmas shopping, holiday parties and traveling. Then Saturday and Sunday are Christmas Eve and Christmas; attack ads on Christmas Eve and Christmas would strike a discordant note. [In fact, I’m not even sure what standard practice is, if the campaigns stay on the air those two days or if they go dark.] The following Monday through Friday may be OK for driving in a message through TV advertising, but it’s only five days. Then you’ve got two more holidays. Then Monday. Then voting.

What else might the pro-Newt SuperPAC do with its windfall? It’s probably too late to do much mail. Maybe they could drop a few pieces around the 28th through 30th of December, provided they can get their pieces designed, printed and to a mailhouse by the middle of next week (which would seem hard to pull off). But since Christmas is on a Sunday, the federal holiday is on Monday, December 26th, so no mail will move that day. Then, Saturday is New Year’s Eve, and that’s the last day of mail delivery before caucus day, because Monday January 2nd is another federal holiday.

There’s no staff infrastructure for a field program, and even if there was, staffing up over the holidays would probably be impossible. Maybe they can buy some online advertising, but that would be of marginal effect, especially with a disproportionately elderly and rural Republican electorate which would be less likely to have broadband than an electorate that skewed younger and more urban and suburban. They can pay for phones, but that’s also much less effective, especially if not part of a coordinated effort involving field and other forms of voter contact.

$20 million is a lot of money. There’s still time for Adelstien’s money to buy a lot of the very expensive air time in the Boston media market that serves most of New Hampshire. But for Gingrich to break out and seriously challenge Romney, he probably needs to win Iowa, or finish second to Paul with Romney looking staggered going in to New Hampshire. Fortunately for him, his allies are investing huge sums of money to help him win. Unfortunately for him, the money is probably coming too late to be effectively spent in Iowa.

 

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