Pols' South Carolina Spending Blowing Away Expectations

Ron Paul and Romney's PAC spend huge, while Colbert makes a more subtle buy
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South Carolina
is cementing its position as a vital stepping stone to a presidential
nomination, with the GOP hopefuls -- and the Super PACS supporting their
efforts -- pouring buckets of money into the state's TV stations for air time.
As was the case in Iowa earlier
this month
, the money is coming in fast, furious -- and late.

An estimated $11 million will be spent in political advertising on television
in the state-not far off the $13.5 million spent in 2008, when both parties had
nominations up for grabs. "Two weeks ago, it was probably a million.
There's been a lot of activity the last two weeks," says Bob Romine,
president and GM of WSPA Greenville-Spartanburg. "We anticipated $4
million, $5 million, maybe $6 million, and it's almost double that."

General Managers in the state said Rick Perry, determined to inject vitality
into his candidacy after poor showings in Iowa
and New Hampshire, spent big on
television in December. Everyone else got on board around New Year's. Local TV
execs in the state say Mitt Romney's Super PAC may have a slim lead over Ron
Paul's camp in terms of spending. 

Stations are enjoying the largess. "The truth is, it's exceeded everyone's
expectations," says Donita Todd, VP and GM at WIS Columbia. "We got a
tiny bit in December, but the last three weeks have just been insane.  We
went from 0 to 60 in the last three weeks."

As many as five candidates and seven Super PACS are on television in South
Carolina, in advance of the Jan. 21 primary. Stations
in Columbia, the capital, look to
get around $1.7 million. Local TV execs there say Romney and Perry are on Fox
News Channel statewide as well.

Charleston has gotten a healthy
taste too, and from at least one unlikely source. Leader WCSC had banked around
$625,000 in political this month through Jan. 17, with a fraction of that
coming from locally reared funnyman Stephen Colbert's "The Definitely Not
Coordinated With Stephen Colbert Super PAC."

Rita Littles Scott, WCSC VP and GM, says the series of spots, poking fun at
Romney (that ad is called "Attack in B Minor For Strings") and even
Herman Cain, run through Jan. 19. She says the buy was for less than $10,000.

Littles Scott suspects the CBS affiliate's place in the DMA No. 98 pecking
order was a factor in being singled out by the Colbert Report host. "We are the No. 1 station in the
market," she says. "I'm glad he chose this station."

(A press release from Colbert's camp quipped that the "major ad buy will
blanket South Carolina from Charleston
all the way to North Charleston.")

The ads were uncharacteristically negative in Iowa,
and the messaging is even nastier in South Carolina.
Kantar Media says the past week's political ads in South
Carolina were 54% positive and 46% negative, but
those in the state suggest their own viewing experience tells a different, and
darker, story.

"I haven't seen a positive one," says Romine. "Seriously, I
haven't."

Todd agrees that it's been "all negative" in Columbia.

The Republican playing field will be a whole lot clearer after the South
Carolina votes are tallied Jan. 21. While the Palmetto
State has long been a pivotal
primary market, the political spending this time around shows just how
significant the state has become.

"No GOP candidate has survived without winning South
Carolina," says Todd. "It's critical, so
everyone's spending a lot."

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