Robert F. Bukaty, File, Associated Press
In this Feb. 10, 2012, file photo Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns Portland, Maine.
WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney and his under-funded opponents are taking advantage of a weeklong lull in the Republican presidential nomination fight — no debate or primary is slated — to raise the money needed to carry out Super Tuesday strategies and compete in states beyond.
Romney is the wealthiest candidate in the race with a big bank account and a personal fortune he could tap. Yet, even he is spending the bulk of this quiet campaign week largely courting donors from California to New York as he looks to ensure that he can swamp his opponents on the TV airwaves in upcoming contests.
The quest is more urgent for his top two challengers — Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — as they battle to emerge as the top alternative to Romney. Both have spent the entire campaign operating on shoestring budgets and working to capitalize on momentum from past victories. Now, with more than one state voting on a given day, they must figure out how to pay for get-out-the-vote efforts and TV ads in multiple states at once, far from an easy feat.
"It's all about money," Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said, describing the former House speaker's upcoming week.
A look at the upcoming primary calendar shows why.
There are 10 states with contests on March 6 — Super Tuesday. A full week's worth of ads running at a heavy level in every one of those states would cost about $5 million by industry estimates. And the stakes are higher than ever: There are 419 delegates to the Republican National Convention that will be selected that day, more than all those available in previous contests combined.
All the candidates, to be sure, are hoping that outside support from allied political action committees will materialize in upcoming states as it has before.
The deep-pocked Restore Our Future super PAC, run by former Romney aides and funded in part by associates from the candidate's former private equity company, has signaled that it plans to continue bankrolling TV ads attacking both Santorum and Gingrich. Republicans say a fresh round of ads by this group is imminent.
But there's no guarantee that the Red, White and Blue Fund — its chief donor is Foster Friess — will go on the air to help Santorum or that Winning Our Future — it's largely bankrolled by casino titan Sheldon Adelson's family — will rush in again to assist Gingrich.
So that mean both candidates have little choice but to try to fill their own campaign coffers.
Santorum, who cuts costs by sleeping at the homes of supporters in each state, says he raised $3 million in three days in the wake of his victories in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, largely online and probably from conservative grass-roots activists who are suddenly more optimistic about his chances of winning the nomination. He doesn't have the kind of big-donor network that Romney has built in the five years he's been running for president.
Thus, fundraising is a top priority as Santorum figures out how to compete with Romney in Michigan and Ohio, which are big, expensive states. That helps explain why Santorum has fewer campaign events each day this week than past weeks. Highly dependent on news coverage to capitalize on his momentum, Santorum planned public events in Washington state Monday as well as multiple appearances in Idaho, North Dakota and Michigan.
He'll need the money if he has any hope of following through with plans to go after Romney in Rust Belt states where advisers argue that Santorum's blue-collar background could help him.
Of all the candidates, Gingrich is the one planning to be most out of view this week.
He's in California through Thursday, almost exclusively focused on fundraising. He's holding three private fundraisers in Los Angeles, money events in San Diego and Fresno on Tuesday and in the San Francisco Bay area on Wednesday. He has just a handful of public events, including in Arizona and his former home state of Georgia.
Romney was campaigning in Arizona late Monday, stopping there between fundraisers in California and New York. He plans to head to Michigan for two days later this week to fend off a sudden challenge from Santorum — but is slated to stop in Idaho after that to raise money.
He's focused on defending himself in the next states to vote, with Gingrich challenging him in Arizona and Santorum in Michigan.
Anticipating a long fight from the start of this campaign, Romney spent nearly all of last year focusing on fundraising in hopes of stockpiling enough cash.
By year's end, Romney had raised far more than his rivals, roughly $56 million.
He had $19 million on hand as 2012 and the state-by-state voting began.
But he's spent the most, too.
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So far, his campaign has spent about $11 million on TV ads. He's bolstered by Restore Our Future, which spent more than $14 million.
Still unclear is whether Romney will draw on his considerable personal fortune. He spent $45 million of his own money in 2008 but hasn't signaled he'll do the same this year.
By contrast, Gingrich raised $12.6 million while Santorum netted $2.2 million last year. And, on TV, Gingrich his allies have spent about $7 million while Santorum and his backers have spent about $2.5 million.