WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Because the first debate was so damn pivotal, I think we've been soft-pedaling the effect of campaign ads. It's like the GOP primaries never happened. You remember -- Mitt Romney would be down in Florida, or down in Michigan, or down in Ohio, or down in Wisconsin, and then Restore Our Future PAC would hove into view and absorb the airwaves like the Borg. Only in the deep South did this ever fail.
Cut to October, and the Romney campaign and Super PACs are back at it. In September, the Obama campaign and allies spent 28 percent more than Republicans on TV ads. In October, the Romney team has spent 50 percent more than Obama. And the latest American Crossroads ad is the sort of thing a Super PAC does best -- an "independent" ad that brags about the candidate's awesome humility and charity.
It's a story that Romney's advisers have wanted to tell. Back during the Michigan primary, Restore Our Future did the same thing -- it re-ran a Romney ad from 2007, but turned it into a humble-looking independent expenditure. The historical cousin for all of these commercials was "Ashley's Story," the 2004 ad by the "Progress for America" 527 that took a heartwarming Bush story and turned it into a documentary about how the president wanted to keep a little girl safe.
The soft-focus Crossroads ads is one of the closers that voters will see in swing states. Any analysis of an Obama edge has to factor in how he'll be outgunned in battlegrounds with ads that turn Romney from a caricature into a human.