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Mitt Romney super PAC outspending rivals 20-to-1 in Florida

Restore Our Future, a super PAC backing Mitt Romney, has already spent $5 million on ads in Florida. Can Newt Gingrich raise enough money to compete with Romney in Florida?

By Alina Selyukh and Alexander CohenReuters / January 23, 2012

Supporters, including Colonel Oscar Poole (C), wait for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a campaign stop in Ormond Beach, Florida January 22, 2012.

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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Washington

Newt Gingrich's supporters are celebrating his stunning win in South Carolina, but Mitt Romney has a big jump in the next battleground state thanks to millions of dollars his backers have already poured into the Florida contest for the Republican presidential nomination.

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Restore Our Future has spent $5 million in Florida for Romney since mid-December. That was when the political action committee launched get-out-the-vote efforts aimed at hundreds of thousands who have sought to vote by mail or at early-voting centers well before primary on Jan. 31.

The PAC's outlay is more than 20 times the amount spent in Florida so far by any other group supporting a Republican candidate, according to Federal Election Commission filings analyzed by Reuters.

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It shows the former Massachusetts governor's organizational advantages in Florida as well as the dramatic impact of "Super PACs" that can swamp a state's airwaves with ads aimed at boosting or tearing down a candidate.

Super PACs, the legacy of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, can receive unlimited donations. Donations directly to candidates are capped at $2,500 per individual.

Although operating separately from the campaigns, the PACs are intimately familiar with the candidates' strategies. The PACs have become the new bullies on the block during the 2012 campaign, spending more than $31 million so far.

More than half of that -- $16.1 million as of Sunday -- had gone toward "negative" ads, aimed at attacks on a rival.

Among the 14 active PACs formed to support Republican presidential candidates, Restore Our Future has led the way on both fronts, spending $11.4 million during the campaign - the vast majority of that to attack Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gingrich's December lead in the Republican race melted away before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, thanks to a barrage of ads by the pro-Romney Restore Our Future that questioned Gingrich's ethics and judgment.

In South Carolina, however, the PAC that supports Gingrich, Winning Our Future, was able to fire back with ads attacking Romney, thanks largely to a $5 million donation from billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino owner and longtime Gingrich friend.

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