LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
The USA Today reported this past week that independent political groups have spent more than $2 million since November 1st to support or oppose presidential hopefuls. But $2 million is chump change compared with what's ahead.
And that's according to commentator John Carroll.
JOHN CARROLL: Special interest groups are the kibitzers of presidential elections. They hang around the table, look over people's shoulders and constantly add their two cents worth.
Actually, make that $1 billion worth. That's how much special interest or third-party groups are likely to spend on this year's presidential campaign.
Right now, most third-party groups are focused on giving someone the third degree. Chief among them is the anti-tax Club For Growth, which is not affiliated with Cy Sperling. The Club For Growth has spent $400,000 on TV commercials that whacked Mike Huckabee for his loosey-goosey attitude toward taxes. One spot features a speech Huckabee gave in 2003 as Arkansas governor in which he said he'd support almost any of the taxes the state legislature had proposed.
(Soundbite of Club For Growth's TV commercial)
Unidentified Man #1: Listen to Mike Huckabee when he was Arkansas governor.
Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Mayor, Arkansas; Presidential Candidate): There's a lot of support for tax at the wholesale level for tobacco. That's fine with me. I will very happily sign that.
CARROLL: I bet you, Huckabee is not so happy to hear that, though.
Mitt Romney is also probably covering his ears these days. The Republican Majority for Choice in knocking Romney around as an abortion flip-flopper. The group's TV spot shows a series of spinning Romney photos.
(Soundbite of Republican Majority for Choice's TV commercial)
Unidentified Man #2: In 1994, Mitt Romney was pro-choice.
Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts): I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.
Unidentified Man #2: In 2001, he flipped, saying I do not wish to be labeled pro-choice.
CARROLL: Not all third-party ads go negative, though. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees has produced a pro-Hillary Clinton commercial, which features a young girl wandering through some woods.
(Soundbite of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees' TV commercial)
Unidentified Man #3: What kind of future will she find? Will she grow up safe and secure?
Unidentified Child: Is anyone there?
Unidentified Man #3: Will there be health care for all? Or for just a few? Will she know the promise of peace?
CARROLL: The bigger question is, will the people of Iowa and New Hampshire know the promise of peace. Beyond TV spots, third-party groups are also funding national phone banks, public opinion polls and direct mail campaigns.
One third-party group that backs Ron Paul has even sponsored a blimp to fly up the East Coast to New Hampshire in time for its presidential primary.
Your hot-air joke goes here.
HANSEN: John Carroll teaches mass communications at Boston University and is a commentator for WGBH Boston.
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