Between convention speeches come the campaign ads

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By BRIAN BAKST, Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — President Barack Obama is "taxing wheelchairs and pacemakers." Mitt Romney would bring "an end to the Medicare promise." The Democratic incumbent has "hurt" the middle class and hasn't done "what we need him to do." If the Republican challenger wins, "the middle class loses."

Got all that?

Outside the halls for the two national party conventions, the candidates and their deep-pocketed allied groups are airing millions of dollars of television commercials — regardless of whether they are factual or not — to reinforce the messages sure to be delivered within.

In Florida alone, where the GOP will nominate Romney, more than $105 million has been spent on ads. North Carolina, where Obama will accept his party's nod next week, has seen at least $56 million worth of commercials during this campaign. Overall, political parties and outside groups have spent a stunning $540 million on TV ads, with most of the money being expended in battleground states.

Millions of dollars more are being spent this week in both Florida and North Carolina — polls show them to be competitive — as the two candidates look to tap into heightened political interest around the conventions that will send Romney and Obama into a two-month push to the election.

Republicans begin a bevy of speeches Tuesday, culminating with Romney's address on Thursday.

Even if Florida voters wanted to tune out the event in Tampa, they'll get healthy dose of the presidential campaign — during morning television, sandwiched between evening news segments and all across the TV dial at night. The same goes for the Democratic show headed for Charlotte, N.C., next week. It wraps up with Obama making his nationally televised case for a second term.

Republicans desperately want to reclaim Florida and its 29 electoral votes after Obama notched a decisive win four years ago. North Carolina, with 15 electoral votes on the line, is hotly contested after Obama's 2008 victory broke a long string of Republican wins.

Florida has 10 distinct TV markets, making it a costly place for campaigns to navigate.

A weekend morning of Florida network television was indicative of a one-two-three punch:

— First was a soft-lit spot from Americans for Prosperity in which self-described Obama voters express regret after four years. "I think that now we've given Obama a fair chance and I don't think he's able to do what we need him to do," says a woman identified as Connie.

— The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future came next with an ad splicing images of Romney and Obama at debate lecterns. A narrator accuses the president of having "wasted $800 billion on a failed stimulus and the jobless rate went up" while holding up Romney as a budget balancer and job creator in the public and private sectors.

— Before the TV show resumed, a third ad, aired by Romney's campaign, portrayed the Obama health care law as having ugly side effects. "Free health care comes at a very high price," the ad ends.

It's far from one-sided. Obama's campaign has a trio of commercials in rotation:

— One argues that Romney would break a health care promise to millions of future retirees by supporting a reworking of Medicare that moves away from direct payment to doctors and toward a voucher system in which future seniors would receive subsidies to shop the market and buy health insurance.

— Another paints Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, as out of the mainstream over their stances on abortion and family planning funding. "For women, for president, the choice is ours," it intones.

— The third ad features former President Bill Clinton talking straight into the camera about the election as a choice between visions — of Obama as a defender of the middle-class and, in his view, of Romney as a protector of the rich.

There's also a commercial from the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA that piles on by saying Romney would see his tax burden fall at the expense of everyone else if he and Ryan enact proposals the Wisconsin congressman has sponsored. "If they win, the middle class loses," the ad concludes.

The airwaves in North Carolina are just as saturated with presidential ads.

For most of August, North Carolina viewers have been inundated with political ads alternatively supporting and deriding the competing presidential candidates. Images of Obama and Romney have become more plentiful than car salesmen, although the balance lately seems to have swung more Romney's way. During a recent nightly newscast in Raleigh, two political ads supporting Romney ran during the 30-minute show.

To be sure, both sides say the opposition ads are filled with flaws and distortions. But neither appears willing to let up.

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Associated Press writer Timothy Rogers in Raleigh, N.C., and AP Special Correspondent David Espo in Tampa contributed to this report.

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