As they try to derail Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, his challengers face an urgent task: raising enough cash to compete.
The campaign for the GOP nomination is moving into states that are more dependent on TV advertising, and nobody has yet been able to match the former Massachusetts governor's financial operation.
Rick Santorum, riding a wave of momentum, nearly won Iowa's caucuses on a shoestring but has no national fundraising network. Newt Gingrich vows to go after Romney in New Hampshire, but if history is any guide, he lacks the cash to do it. And Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a prolific fundraiser, still might be a threat _ but the Iowa results showed his support has waned.
Complicating this election has been the explosion of outside political action committees, known as super PACs, which have spent millions in support of their favored candidates. They must legally remain independent from campaigns but are still making their mark : The Romney-supportive Restore Our Future PAC deflated the brief surge of Gingrich by running ads critical of the former House speaker.
Romney's campaign has spent more than $17 million since January 2011, while Gingrich and Santorum have each spent less than one-sixth of that. Meanwhile, one super PAC _ the Santorum-leaning Red, White and Blue Fund _ spent about half a million dollars in Iowa media markets, raising questions of whether or not an underdog needs to raise money himself if his supporters will do it for him.
Support for Santorum _ who finished just eight votes behind Romney in Tuesday's caucuses _ has already begun to shift, with aides saying he raised $1 million Wednesday alone.
At the same time, Foster Friess, a prominent businessman from Wyoming who supports conservative causes, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that he's reaching out to supporters to back the former Pennsylvania senator.
"His energy level and his willingness to go face-to-face to people is truly impressive," Friess said of Santorum, calling him the best candidate to beat President Barack Obama. "If you go to any of those town halls, there's this great electricity _ because they believe in him as a person. And that's the magic of his campaign."
Yet with just five days until the New Hampshire primary, it's unclear how Santorum, Gingrich and Perry can compete financially with Romney beyond New England.
An Associated Press review of federal campaign-finance data reveals a stark contrast between Romney and most of the GOP's remaining candidates. Romney has a national donor network that raised more than $32 million during the first nine months of 2011, the most recent data available.
Other candidates are more limited. Santorum received many of his contributions from Pennsylvania and Florida. Much of Perry's money _ including from outside groups _ came from Texas. Ron Paul, with $12 million, has been financially competitive, but his libertarian views limit his appeal to GOP primary voters.
Romney had little trouble raising cash from across the nation during that same period _ garnering donations from liberal-leaning districts as well as GOP strongholds in the South.
Among the disparities so far:
_Individual donors: To date, Romney has drawn more than $32 million in individual contributions. Gingrich took in just under $3 million since early 2011, Santorum just over $1 million.
_Super PACs: These outside groups spent at least $5 million on ads leading up to the Iowa caucuses, notably from Restore Our Future. While Santorum's campaign spent an anemic $4,200 on ads in the state, the Red, White and Blue fund is expected to spend more in other primaries. And Perry-leaning Make Us Great Again said Thursday it would remain active in Perry's candidacy with media buys planned in the coming weeks.
"By spending millions and millions of dollars without any form of accountability, super PACs are now capable of completely changing the dynamic of our elections, shifting even more power to a wealthy elite and away from the voting public," said John Bonifaz, director of the advocacy group Free Speech For People.
_Defunct campaigns: Candidates often seek to recruit the fundraisers of their rivals who withdraw from the race. But following Tuesday's results, only one candidate _ Rep. Michele Bachmann _ has dropped out. Since January, the Minnesota congresswoman has raised about $5 million but reported about $1 million cash-on-hand this fall, putting her near the middle of the GOP fundraising heap.
As Santorum and the others rush to expand their operations, Romney is wasting no time. Since Wednesday morning, his campaign released two campaign videos, including one titled "American Optimism" that makes a nod toward New Hampshire.
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