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Florida stands as challenge to Gingrich’s resources

He will need big money to make his case

By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / January 22, 2012
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - Now comes the hard part for Newt Gingrich. After winning South Carolina, resource-draining Florida, with its 10 media markets, awaits, and unless his performance here generates a gusher of new cash and bodies, he lacks the infrastructure and money of Mitt Romney, who has plenty of resources to fall back.

Gone will be the bus tour barnstorming with multiple stops in the more compact states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. It takes 4 1/2 hours to drive from Tampa to Miami and longer between other major cities. In Florida, you cannot run an effective statewide campaign without a heavy television presence, and that can eat up more than $1 million a week for a modest buy.

Romney’s campaign has already announced it started January with $19 million in cash on hand. Gingrich’s campaign, which was in debt as recently as last fall, has not yet disclosed its year-end financial status. Reports are due to be filed Jan. 31.

The former Massachusetts governor also enjoys the support of a super PAC, Restore Our Future, that has vastly outspent rival organizations backing Gingrich or other Republican presidential candidates.

As the campaigns head into Florida ahead of the Jan. 31 primary, Romney’s super PAC has already purchased more than $1.5 million in air time, and his campaign has also bought a substantial amount of advertising in Florida and Nevada, the caucus state that will follow on Feb. 4. As of Friday, the Gingrich campaign had not gone on the air in Florida.

The cost of competing rises exponentially, starting now.

Of course, Gingrich will have more debate opportunities to shine before the Florida primary. His winning and sometimes scintillating performances in debates have sustained his candidacy thus far. He does not have the machinery in place that Romney does, but he keeps talking about “big ideas’’ in a voice and vocabulary that fires up voters from the party’s base. But even as the former House speaker was surging in South Carolina, the Romney campaign was rolling out almost daily announcements of new supporters and prominent individual endorsements from various states.

Gingrich’s rise in South Carolina was more or less self-propelled. It wouldn’t have happened without a pair of pre-primary debates where he stole the show and Romney stumbled badly. Despite his uncanny ability to generate news, it will be a difficult act to duplicate going forward. After Florida, there is a series of contests in organization-rewarding caucus states, where Ron Paul’s campaign is focusing much of its resources, then a period of multi-state contests - Arizona and Michigan primaries on Feb. 28 and seven primaries and three caucuses on Super Tuesday, March 6. Six other multi-state days will follow in a process that will not officially end until June.

Gingrich didn’t even qualify for the ballot in Virginia, one of the bigger Super Tuesday prizes, so he forfeits any chance at the 50 delegates at stake - a telltale sign of the campaign’s lack of focus on critical details. He also failed to qualify in Missouri (52 delegates).

In all, there will be 438 delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday, with the largest being Gingrich’s home state of Georgia (72 delegates). Massachusetts (41), Romney’s home state, also votes that day.

“You’re not going to win the nomination unless you put together an organization and unless you’re able to raise money,’’ said Stephen C. Craig, director of the graduate program in political campaigning at the University of Florida. “And you’re certainly not going to win a primary in a state like Florida without a serious media presence. We are a media state.’’

“Gingrich just isn’t prepared for the Romney juggernaut when you move to a different level of playing field, with multiple states on the same day,’’ said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “He’s a one-man show.’’

Sabato cited the Gingrich campaign’s failure to qualify for the ballot in Virginia and Missouri as evidence of the campaign’s shortcomings. The lapse in Virginia was “incredible,’’ he said. “It’s embarrassing.’’

“What Gingrich has done is to be the vanguard of proof that Romney has inadequacies, and he has demonstrated them fully,’’ Sabato said. “The real question is does somebody else jump in. It’s all over Twitter. Of course, there are no names.’’

Sabato said his program did a recent study that showed if a new candidates gets in by the beginning of February, he or she would be able to compete for more than half the convention delegates.

If the focus on whether Romney should be the nominee has revealed the resistance of the party rank-and-file, Sabato said, a similar focus on Gingrich is unlikely to produce a more favorable response from party establishment figures who have been highly critical of him, in some cases saying he would hurt the GOP ticket in the fall. The harsh on-the-record criticisms of Gingrich by former Republican colleagues who served with him in the House are an issue that could have some legs.

Gingrich’s rise in national polls and the new life breathed into his candidacy should help fundraising. Winning Our Future, the pro-Gingrich super PAC, has provided increased advertising cover after Gingrich’s friend, Sheldon Adelson, who controls a casino empire on two continents, kicked in $5 million shortly before the New Hampshire primary.

True to his word, Gingrich has conducted his campaign his own way. Quirky and prompting head-scratching at times, it certainly looks like a big-time operation, with the big blue bus featuring Newt’s smiling visage, a small fleet of black sport-utility vehicles, and a group of ultra-serious security men wired with earpieces and talking into their sleeves. If the campaign hasn’t been flush, it has not exhibited it with the type of shoestring budget appearance of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.

But the main attraction is the candidate. He keeps crowds waiting at almost every stop, but they rarely complain, and he always makes time at the end to shake hands, pose for pictures, and sign his books. Many times the stump speech has been followed by sales and signings of books by Gingrich and his wife, Callista, who is almost always at his side.

There will be a lot less time for that in Florida and beyond.

Brian C. Mooney can be reached at brian.mooney@globe.com.

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