2012 ELECTION

South Carolina TV already awash in GOP attack ads

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Mitt Romney is "a Massachusetts moderate" who "can't be trusted" on abortion and other core Republican values. Newt Gingrich has questionable judgment for "teaming up with Nancy Pelosi," the Democratic lawmaker the GOP loves to malign. Rick Santorum is a "serial hypocrite" with "a record of betrayal."

That is, if you believe the crush of TV commercials on steady rotation in South Carolina. It's where Republican presidential candidates and their deep-pocketed allies are spending millions on attack ads ahead of the state's pivotal primary on Jan. 21.

And in a state known for brutal campaign tactics, the savaging has only just begun.

That's because Romney's wins in the first two contests - Iowa and New Hampshire - have set up a now-or-never situation in South Carolina for opponents desperate to deny him the nomination.

"People are going to stoop to new, interesting ad tactics that we haven't seen in the past," says DeWitt Zemp, a GOP strategist who was an aide to both Bush presidents and is unaligned in this race. "They're going to go even more negative than they have in the past as a result of where we are in the election process. It's all hands on deck against Romney."

Even before the race turned south, roughly $3 million had been spent in South Carolina, with more than half of it coming from a pro-Rick Perry super PAC called Make Us Great Again.

Then, a similar group supporting Gingrich, named Winning Our Future, said it planned to spend $3.4 million to run an ad attacking Romney for jobs lost during his time as an executive at equity firm Bain Capital.

But so far, only roughly $1.5 million has been bought. Not to be outdone, a pro-Romney group called Restore Our Future has reserved $2.3 million in time.

It's the group behind the ad linking Gingrich to Pelosi and ribbing him for other "mistakes" or flips on immigration, health care and Iraq policy.

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