"Negative ads work" has long been political conventional wisdom, but now we have a new case study to prove it. Mitt Romney says he lost the South Carolina primary because he was "vastly outspent with negative ads" by Newt Gingrich—which isn't true, by the way—and implied that he's winning in Florida because of his own negative ads against Gingrich.
How can you tell the mud-slinging works? The top four searches for "Gingrich" are "Callista," "Newt ethics violations," "Newt wives," and "Newt scandals," The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports, results he says "prove that the negative ad barrage from Romney and his affiliated super PAC really paid dividends." (Romney's top searches are "Mitt bio," "tax return," "net worth," and "George.") Romney said Tuesday he learned his lesson in South Carolina, Politico's Reid Epstein reports, where independent analysts said Romney's campaign and super PAC actually spent double what Gingrich's did. But the comment also marks a turning point for Romney: He's finally admitting that going negative can help him.
Romney has spent most of the primary playing down the importance of negative ads, particularly those aired by the super PAC that supports him, Restore Our Future. When Gingrich essentially accused Romney of trying to buy an election, saying "He would if he could," Romney responded, "This is an election, however, that's not being driven by money raised. It's being driven by message connection with the voters, debate and experience." Romney said the ads merely “pointed out some of the aspects of [Gingrich's] record that people weren’t aware of." In December, Romney told Fox News he wished the campaigns didn't have to go there: "I wish we didn't have PACs, I wish campaigns could raise all the money they need and didn't need these other entities, but we're going to play by the rules."
In Florida, he's less reluctant to throw mud. "When attacked, you have to respond," Romney said in Tampa, ABC News' Jonathan Karl reports. Romney and his backers spent six times more than Gingrich, and a whopping 92 percent of ads in Florida were negative. If Romney wins the nomination, we expect him to blow up our TV in the general elections this fall.