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BY BETH FOUHY
NEW YORK--Now the campaign ad crush and TV spending spree really begins in the presidential race.
The TV ad campaign, with spending expected to swell to $1.1 billion, starts up again now that the party conventions are over and the two-month sprint to the general election is under way.
Just over one-third of that amount has been spent, the Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group said.
That means the campaigns and independent groups will spend more on the air in the final eight weeks of the contest than they did in the first five months.
The biggest change is on the Republican side, with Mitt Romney now free to tap millions in general election funds he had collected but could not spend until becoming the party's official nominee. That means the GOP's significant spending advantage over President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies will grow, making it the first time that an incumbent will have been outspent on the air.
National polls show Obama and Romney in a virtual dead heat. Only eight states are true battlegrounds: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
Flush with new cash, the Romney campaign poured nearly $5 million into ads in those states beginning this weekend. State-specific ads hit Obama on defense spending, business regulations and housing; another ad uses President Clinton's words from the 2008 primary race against Obama.
Republican-leaning independent groups led by the American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS kept Romney in the game throughout the summer while he regrouped from a tough GOP primary contest. Priorities USA Action, the only significant pro-Obama super PAC, has been far outpaced by the conservative groups.
Those and other independent groups emerged after a 2010 Supreme Court decision loosened campaign finance laws. The Crossroads groups are backed by former President George W. Bush's longtime political counselor Karl Rove. Americans for Prosperity, another pro-Romney group, was founded by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
Together, the Crossroads groups spent about $66 million on ads in August.