Florida, a make-or-break state for GOP White House hopefuls, will be saturated with as much as $15 million worth of TV advertising in the next few weeks as candidates and super PACs try to prove Iowa either right or irrelevant.
"Florida is a state that 's very different from Iowa," said Ken Goldstein, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. "Iowa had about 120,000 [Republican primary] voters and Florida will have 2 million."
A winner-take-all state with 50 delegates, Florida rose in importance in the GOP's White House race after the muddled results of the Iowa caucuses, which gave former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney an eight-vote victory over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The caucuses also gave Texas Rep. Ron Paul unexpectedly strong support.
They will battle it out in New Hampshire on Jan. 10, and are likely to head to South Carolina's Jan. 21 contest and compete in Florida's Jan. 31 primary.
Although Rep. Michele Bachman, R-Minn., has dropped out of the race, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman are still running.
Florida could settle the volatile race much the way it essentially sealed the Republican nomination four years ago for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
The high-stakes contest is expected to be very expensive. Florida has 10 media markets, and it's estimated it costs a campaign more than $1.5 million a week to air an ad statewide.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, candidates spent nearly $4 million to air ads in Iowa, and the super PACs spent more than $10 million. Advertising dollars are now flowing into New Hampshire, and Mr. Goldstein said much more money is going to South Carolina. But spending in Florida is expected to dwarf those buys and will begin soon, especially when campaigns fine-tune their messaging after the New Hampshire and South Carolina races.
"We expect a lot of money is going to be spent in a short period of time," said Ray Karczewski of Harrington, Richter & Parsons, who sells advertising time for Miami's WSVN, a Fox station, and Orlando's WKFC, a Hearst station.
Mr. Romney's 30-second "Leader " ad began airing the day after the Iowa caucuses, selling Mr. Romney as a candidate of "steadiness and constancy" and insinuating that Mr. Gingrich is not.
Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Mr. Romney, has also begun its attacks in the Sunshine State, spending more than $530,000 to run an attack ad aimed at Mr. Gingrich. Called "Happy," it slams the former congressional leader for his personal and political "baggage" and has been credited for the erosion of support for Mr. Gingrich in Iowa. Restore Our Future has also spent about $90,000 on direct mail attacking Mr. Gingrich and is likely to soon target Mr. Santorum.
But Richard Martinez, general manager of WTVJ-6, an NBC station in Miami, hasn't run any presidential primary ads yet. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale market is expensive and heavily Democratic, which may have prompted GOP candidates to hold off on buying air time there.
But Mr. Martinez expects that to change soon and estimates the South Florida broadcasters will eventually sell $2 million worth of primary ads, the same amount as 2008.
GOP candidates are also likely to run their first Spanish-language ads in this Florida presidential campaign to reach the state's large Cuban-American population, which trends Republican in presidential elections. A spokeswoman for Univision, the largest Spanish-language network in the U.S., said its Miami station is "in conversations with all the campaigns and PACs and has received inquiries for proposals as they focus on the Florida primary."