‘Super PACs’ Still Have Time to Serve as Candidates’ Attack Dogs

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaking to supporters during a campaign stop in Hilton Head Island, S.C., on Saturday.

By Maggie Haberman – – – –

Months after it became clear that “super PACs” could not, in fact, supplant the core functions of a campaign, several of the unlimited-money groups that are backing presidential candidates are reverting to 2012 form — with a series of blistering attack ads.

Super PACs supporting the campaign of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas are set to unload on Senator Marco Rubio of Florida on television in Iowa and elsewhere. Jeb Bush’s supportive super PAC, Right to Rise USA, ran its first negative ad against Mr. Rubio shortly before the new year. Mr. Bush has also signaled potential coming lines of attack against Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, pointing out the state’s credit downgrades during his tenure and contrasting that record with his own.

So far the group supporting Mr. Bush has attacked Mr. Rubio, Donald J. Trump and Mr. Cruz, but it is unclear how much it will expand its target list.

But it has become clear, as the calendar pages turn and as the race enters the final weeks before voting in Iowa and New Hampshire, that the tone has become far nastier and that it is increasingly taking place on the air.

In 2012, the first presidential cycle since the outside groups arose, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, savaged a rising opponent, Newt Gingrich, in the primary race. The group dumped tens of millions of dollars into negative television spots, kitchen-sink style ads that included a claim that, as the speaker of the House, he had helped support China’s restrictive policy of one child per family.

Super PACs have so far not been exceptional in the 2016 race, in terms of supplementing campaigns or keeping flagging candidates alive. But they might still prove effective at the task of negative campaigning, sparing the candidates from doing it themselves and saving them the harder-to-raise, limited campaign funds in the process.

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