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Romney, McCain up ante on Super Tuesday ads

The GOP candidate's decision to air a "significant" level of television ads in California and other states signals a willingness to aggressively try to derail frontrunner John McCain.
Republicans Debate
GOP presidential hopeful former Gov. Mitt Romney chats with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during the Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, Calif., Wednesday.Mark Terrill / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney readied plans to run a “significant” level of television ads in California and other states that vote Tuesday in essentially a national primary, signaling a willingness to aggressively try to derail front-runner John McCain.

Unwilling to cede his lead, McCain too was preparing to run a high volume of commercials on national cable channels and in key states, aides said.

McCain's campaign had earlier talked about relying on momentum and “free” news coverage that comes with it by holding rallies and news conferences in California and big winner-take-all delegates states, including New York and Illinois. McCain picked up the endorsement of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday, an event that garnered loads of publicity.

On Wednesday, Romney indicated that he was not ready to commit to a costly campaign and that he was not attempting to purchase television advertising time in any of the states on the Super Tuesday calendar. Instead, his plans called for campaigning in California and other primary states, while making organizational efforts primarily for caucus states.

That still holds, though Romney now will supplement his campaigning with advertising.

His travel schedule reflects his campaign targets — if not his advertising goals.

With his opportunity for scoring the nomination dwindling, Romney’s strategy calls for seeking votes in states with heavy concentrations of Romney’s fellow Mormons: California, Arizona, and Utah, seat of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Since his defeat in Florida Tuesday, the former Massachusetts governor has been debating over just how much of an effort to make in which of the 21 states that hold primaries and caucuses Tuesday. Romney has tried to cast himself as more conservative than McCain.

Romney is trying to get back on track after two straight losses to McCain — in South Carolina on Jan. 19 and more recently in the winner-take-all state of Florida. That victory gave McCain the advantage in the all-important delegate count as well as the momentum in the GOP race.

His advisers had given Romney several options, ranging from $1 million in ads to $7 million in ads. It was not immediately clear how much money Romney was willing to spend — or whether the multimillionaire would dip into his own bank account again. He already has poured at least $40 million into his presidential campaign.

His wealth is estimated at up to $250 million. The former venture capitalist has stated publicly that he and his wife have agreed on a personal spending cap, though they refuse to divulge the figure. The issue facing Romney was whether the additional spending could make the difference against McCain or amount to money wasted.