Philadelphia-area television ad sales reps report lower-than-expected spending on political commercials. As of Thursday, only one group - the Romney-backing Restore Our Future super PAC - had sunk any significant money into purchasing TV time in the Keystone State.
Some speculate that lofty ad rates in the state's largest media markets, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have scared off cash-strapped campaigns. Others suggest that Romney backers - the race's largest spenders by far - think the former Massachusetts governor has his party's nomination sewn up and are saving his money for the general election this fall.
"I don't think you're going to see Gov. Romney focusing on Rick much at all anymore," said Robert B. Asher, a longtime Republican National Committee member and GOP power broker from Montgomery County.
So far, Restore Our Future has devoted just $160,000 to TV ad time in Pennsylvania, according to the group's filings with federal regulators. The purchases were part of a $1.3 million strategy targeting four other East Coast states that also vote April 24, including New York, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
What has that investment bought them here? A relatively modest block of Fox News time on cable networks across the state, said Susan Kailis, a political specialist with Comcast Spotlight, the cable giant's ad sales division.
The super PAC ads went up last week and are scheduled to run through the end of this week.
Restore Our Future is currently running only one spot in the state, said its spokeswoman, Brittany Gross. The ad dings Santorum for his votes in support of earmarks and raising the U.S. debt ceiling when he was in the Senate, and labels him a "big spender" and a "Washington insider."
Restore Our Future's limited foray here pales in comparison to the onslaught it unloaded in states like Michigan and Florida, where its attack ads helped squash early polling leads by Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
Such has been the blueprint that has come to define the 2012 race.
Aided by a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that affirmed independent groups' constitutional right to raise and spend as much as they want on political advertising, wealthy donors have flooded PACs formed for the express purpose of funding a single candidate.
Laws bar these groups from coordinating with the campaigns. But their largesse has helped propel once-longshot candidates such as Gingrich, a former U.S. House speaker, and Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, as they challenged Romney's front-runner status.
But the changed funding landscape has also helped Romney bury both under mountains of negative ads.
In all, Restore Our Future has spent more than $39 million on blackballing Romney's rivals on air, plus $1.1 million promoting their candidate with positive spots.
The money has allowed the PAC to run the same 16 spots in rotation nearly 42,000 times in primary states since Jan. 1, according to data from Kantar Media, which monitors political advertising.
Romney's campaign, meanwhile, has spent about $12 million on mostly positive broadcast ads, according to totals compiled by the nonpartisan Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.
By contrast, the Santorum-backing Red, White and Blue Fund has paid for just more than 8,000 negative ads.
Though that super PAC has yet to spend in Pennsylvania, one of its chief donors - Wyoming billionaire Foster Friess - told Fox Business News on Tuesday his wallet remained open to Santorum.
Friess, a onetime Chadds Ford resident and former manager of the Brandywine Fund, has given more than $1 million combined to Santorum's campaign and the Red, White and Blue Fund, including a $600,000 donation to the PAC in February.
Asked if he'd continue to contribute as the contest comes to Pennsylvania, Friess said, "Rick's not out of the race yet."
Kailis, of Comcast Spotlight, hopes he means it. If a slim serving of attack ads is good news for local TV viewers, it is bad news for ad reps. But Kailis notes that there are still three weeks before Pennsylvania's vote. Campaigns typically invest larger sums in advertising as the primary date draws nearer.
In the meantime, candidates in the state's Republican Senate primary and Democratic attorney general's race have bought up time, hoping to make an impression before Romney and Santorum can flood the airwaves.
Cheaper online advertising, too, has played a rising role this year. President Obama's campaign has invested heavily on the Web here, while the super PAC backing him has yet to make a significant TV ad purchase in the state.
And while spending on television spots is likely to pick up, it may never reach the fever pitch here that ad sales reps hope for, said Charles Gerow, a Republican strategist and state director of the Gingrich campaign.
The grueling primaries have tapped Gingrich and Santorum's cash reserves. As of their latest filings, the committees backing them had $2.3 million and $360,000 on hand respectively - compared with $10.5 million for Restore Our Future.
As for the Romney camp, advisers are debating conflicting media strategies for the state.
Some argue they should forge ahead with a negative ad blitz to swamp Santorum's efforts in his home state - a strategy that has worked well elsewhere. Others suggest such an assault is no longer necessary as Romney closes in on the nomination with each passing primary.
Better to save the money for this fall, they say.
"I think in the end you'll see a significant amount of money poured into Pennsylvania by Romney and his supporters," Gerow said. "What the rest of us spend remains to be seen."
Contact Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @jeremyrroebuck.