Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney, the winner of the Republican primary in Florida, likes to talk about how it will take 1,144 delegates to win his party’s presidential nomination. He has collected fewer than 100 so far.
The delegate race will slow even more in the coming weeks before accelerating in late February and March, following a busy and unpredictable January when contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida yielded three different victors.
That will make it harder for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to gain momentum, even as he has vowed to keep fighting Romney until the party’s national convention in August.
“Newt’s money may simply dry up, but that never seems to be much of a concern with him because he thrives on free media exposure,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist in Washington who isn’t affiliated with any campaign. “Super Tuesday will be Newt’s last stand.”
The 11 primaries and caucuses on March 6, known as Super Tuesday because of the more than 400 delegates at stake that day, include a selection of Southern states where Gingrich, a onetime Georgia congressman, may find support.
Yet the first next phase of the race includes a series of caucuses that will test the candidates’ organizational strength.
There will be six contests in February, starting with this weekend’s Nevada and Maine caucuses, followed by Colorado and Minnesota, and then primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28. A nonbinding primary will be held Feb. 7 in Missouri with delegate allocation based on the state’s caucuses in March.
More attention will be given to the contests at the end of February, when Romney’s tougher stance on immigration could help him in the border state of Arizona and his father’s past governorship in Michigan gives him added strength there. The February races will yield a total of 187 delegates.
Romney and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas have done more organizing in the caucus states than Gingrich and onetime U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, Republican officials and political analysts say. And Romney won all four of those states in 2008 even as he lost the nomination to John McCain.
Romney and Paul have “been on the ground in these places and have built the organization,” said Josh Putnam, a political scientist at Davidson College in North Carolina.
Time to Regroup
The slower period in February will give the Republicans time to raise money and regroup, as the broader map plays to Romney’s fundraising and organizational strengths.
The four-day Nevada campaign will take place in a state that had the nation’s highest unemployment rate, 12.6 percent, in December. For the fifth straight year, Nevada also had the highest rate of foreclosure filings in 2011, according to RealtyTrac Inc., a data seller in Irvine, California.
Barack Obama won the state in 2008 on his way to the White House, and Nevada will be a battleground in November’s election. The president visited Las Vegas last week as part of a campaign-like tour after his State of the Union address.
Romney, who is scheduled to arrive in Nevada late today, holds a clear advantage in the Silver State because of its large Mormon population and his past success there.
Nevada has about 175,000 Mormons and 323 congregations, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That equates to about 6.5 percent of the state’s population.
Entrance polls in 2008 showed 26 percent of Republican caucus-goers were Mormon and Romney won 95 percent of that vote.
“There is really no competition for Romney for the Mormon vote in Nevada,” said Quin Monson, associate director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. “Gingrich doesn’t really stand a chance.”
Romney, 64, won Nevada’s 2008 caucuses with 51 percent of the vote, well ahead of Paul, who got 14 percent, and McCain, who recorded 13 percent.
Even before his Florida victory yesterday, Romney won the endorsement of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Nevada’s largest newspaper called him a “Washington outsider, not a capital insider.”
Until now, Gingrich’s campaign has been fueled by strong performances in nationally televised debates. In February, just one of those events is scheduled, making it harder for him to keep his name in front of the media and voters.
‘Lot of Opportunities’
Bill McCollum, Gingrich’s Florida campaign chairman, pointed to March contests in Southern states where he said his candidate could be more competitive.
“We’ve got a lot of opportunities,” said McCollum, who was Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 Florida chairman. “On Super Tuesday, he’s got 76 delegates in Georgia and right after that we have 90 in Mississippi and Alabama. Romney can’t spend like this throughout the campaign.”
Still, Gingrich won’t be on the ballot in Virginia, which will also hold a March 6 vote. He failed to meet the qualification requirements in his adopted home state, as well as those in Missouri.
Before his arrival in Nevada today, Romney’s campaign has already been running television commercials.
Through Jan. 30, his campaign spent more than $364,000 on ads in the state, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks such spending. Restore Our Future, a political action committee that backs Romney, hadn’t yet spent anything. Gingrich hasn’t started advertising in Nevada.
Continuing the Fight
Gingrich, 68, has pledged to continue his fight in part because many of the states will award delegates on a proportional basis, rather than winner-take-all as was the case in Florida. Finishing a close second in some of the states would yield almost as many as would a win.
The former speaker also often cites his standing in national polls, which at times have shown him preferred to Romney by Republicans, even as he does worse among the independent voters needed for a general election victory.
“We’re definitely well-prepared to go through this next phase,” Rick Tyler, a strategist with Winning Our Future, a political action committee supporting Gingrich, said in a Bloomberg Television interview yesterday. “Now it’s going to be a two-person race.”
Gingrich has been helped by Sheldon Adelson, a longtime donor and casino executive based in Las Vegas who, with his wife, has contributed $10 million to Winning Our Future.
As Romney and Gingrich fought over Florida, Paul focused on Nevada and other caucus states where turnout tends to be lower and a smaller investment in time and money can yield results, a model used by Obama’s campaign in 2008.
For Paul, 76, who has a base of loyal followers, the caucuses offer a chance to win enough delegates to parlay into clout or recognition at the national convention in Tampa in August.
Santorum of Pennsylvania has also promised to stay in the race for the long haul, citing the proportional awarding of delegates. Strategists say the calls for Gingrich to quit are likely to be the loudest because he has been so vocal in his criticism of Romney.
“There will be pressure for him to pull out of the race from the so-called establishment, and pressure for him to remain from the Sarah Palin wing of the party,” Feehery said. “Conservatives want somebody else at the convention to have a sizeable amount of delegates outside the Ron Paul faction, so that they have more influence during the platform process.”
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