Can Newt Gingrich win Florida without Mitt Romney's bucks?

Gaining momentum with a win in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich appears to be a serious contender in Florida. But Mitt Romney has the upper hand in organization and fundraising.

By , Staff Writer

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    Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich shake hands at the end of the Republican presidential candidate debate at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, S.C., Thursday.
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With a big win in South Carolina and momentum building in Florida, Newt Gingrich suddenly appears poised to be a contender.

At the very least, it seems like it will be tougher than Mitt Romney once envisioned to lock up the GOP nomination quickly, with Florida cementing a series of victories.

But Mr. Gingrich also faces a daunting challenge: fundraising.

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Florida is a notoriously expensive market, and Mr. Romney has already been advertising heavily there – virtually alone – for weeks.

As a late surger, Gingrich isn't nearly as well-positioned as Romney is for either organization or funding.

He hasn't reported how much cash he's raised in the last quarter (his deadline to release those numbers is Jan. 31), but it's almost certainly significantly less than Romney, who had $19 million in his campaign war chest as of Dec. 31.

At the end of the last reporting period, Romney had a $14 million advantage over Gingrich.

And it's a challenge Gingrich is focused on.

Within minutes of winning the South Carolina primary, he tweeted: "Thank you South Carolina! Help me deliver the knockout punch in Florida. Join our Moneybomb and donate now."

And in his victory speech, he told supporters, "I need your help in reaching out to people in Florida ... to sign up, to donate, to get involved." He added, "We don’t have the kind of money that at least one of the candidates does, but we do have ideas."

The pleas helped. The Gingrich campaign announced on Monday that it raised more than $1 million in the 24 hours following the South Carolina win.

And Gingrich has some big donors – most notably Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate who contributed $5 million to a pro-Gingrich super political-action committee earlier this month that spent heavily to promote him in South Carolina, and may have helped him to victory.

On Monday, Jon Ralston, political reporter at the Las Vegas Sun in a tweet said that Mr. Adelson's wife, Miriam Adelson, has promised another $5 million to the super PAC, Winning Our Future, which plans to spend heavily on advertising in Florida starting Tuesday.

Still, Florida is a formidable state to advertise in. The Wall Street Journal estimates it could cost candidates $10 million to campaign effectively there. And Romney, who has an extensive fundraising network, plans to raise that much before the end of the month.

Romney has tended to attract donors from among the Republican establishment, and he has proved adept at fundraising. According to The Wall Street Journal, one Romney event in January raised $2 million, more than double its goal.

With the deep-pocketed Rick Perry opting to leave the race, new opportunities have opened up  for the remaining candidates. But it's uncertain who will best take advantage of them.

Mr. Perry endorsed Gingrich, but it's not clear that his followers will agree with him. Romney has already recruited many of Perry's top fundraisers, including the two men who co-chaired Perry's fundraising committee.

So far, the momentum seems to be in Gingrich's favor. And there's nothing like success to pull in more money.

But it remains to be seen whether Gingrich can make up such a large financial gap in a short time, and how much the money will matter.

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