What Did the Presidential Super PACs Get for Their Money?
By relentlessly attacking Newt Gingrich and denying him a top ticket out of Iowa, the pro-Mitt Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future seems to have bought its candidate a new conservative to contend with, Rick Santorum.
And with final results still too close to call, the only thing that seems certain is that the top-spending Restore Our Future PAC, which burned through $4 million targeting Romney's opponents, failed to give Romney the clear cut victory he needed to cement his front-runner status.
The second-biggest spending Super PAC was Make Us Great Again, the pro-Rick Perry group that spent almost $3.8 million on positive messaging, according to the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics. Still, the PAC money was unable to make up for the ground lost by the gaffe-prone Perry, who was running in fifth place with about 95 percent of the votes in.
Meanwhile, Ron Paul and Santorum, who between them saw about a $1.1 million total in outside money spent on their races, appeared to be headed to a top tier finish.
So what happened?
While Restore Our Future's negative ads cut Gingrich off at the knees, it also likely shaved a few points off of Romney's vote totals.
"Romney pays a price. There's a hiding-behind-your-rich-friends narrative," said Evan Tracey, a George Washington University political communications professor and former media analyst. "When you run a bunch of negative ads it spins voters off a candidate. I think a bunch of negative ads spun people off of Gingrich and off of Romney and they landed on Santorum."
And while much will be made of the Super PAC effect, Paul and Santorum proved that big outside money isn't a necessity to win.
"You don't have to have one to be successful," said Sara Fagen, a former White House political director and veteran GOP Iowa caucus veteran. "Rick Santorum, as time goes on, will need more money, but the Super PAC is not going to define this race."
Of course, the pro-Romney forces are likely already hard at work preparing to do to Santorum what they did to Gingrich so it will be imperative that Santorum control the daily earned media message heading into New Hampshire and South Carolina.