WASHINGTON — Fresh off a resounding victory, Newt Gingrich faces a formidable financial challenge as he storms into Florida — raising money.
The former House speaker — whose campaign still is carrying debt — has little choice but to move rapidly to convert momentum from his South Carolina triumph into dollars to spend in Florida, a much larger and more diverse state with multiple media markets that bear a hefty $2 million price tag to blanket the state with TV ads over the next week.
He's already working to tap into Rick Perry's deep base of donors, following the Texas governor's departure from the race and endorsement, as well as the vast grassroots network of his now defunct political group, American Solutions. And, even if aides won't publicly acknowledge it, Gingrich probably also is betting on his wealthy friends continuing to open their wallets to a political action committee working to help elect the former Georgia congressman.
Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson essentially saved Gingrich's campaign as the race turned to South Carolina almost two weeks ago by pouring $5 million into the Winning Our Future super PAC that aired ads tearing into chief rival Mitt Romney, helping pave the way for a Gingrich victory. With Gingrich now winning, it's tough to see how Adelson returns to the sidelines now.
Even before his South Carolina victory, a confident Gingrich said in Orangeburg, S.C.: "We will have what we need to compete."
But the urgency was clear in the minutes after The Associated Press declared him the winner Saturday night.
He quickly sent a tweet thanking supporters and appealing for a flood of donations for the Jan. 31 primary. "Help me deliver the knockout punch in Florida. Join our Moneybomb and donate now," said his tweet. And later, he pleaded in an email: "If you want to see a Reagan conservative as the nominee, and if you want to watch us run circles around Barack Obama in the debates with bold, conservative ideas, then please make a donation today."
Gingrich's campaign did not immediately respond to questions about whether the financial floodgates have opened in the wake of his victory.
Aides have said he raised roughly $9 million in the final quarter of last year. But the campaign still is carrying about a half a million dollars in debt from spring and summer when his campaign was struggling.
In that same time period Romney says he has raised $24 million. And he and his allies have been on the air in Florida — alone — for weeks, blanketing the state with his campaign pitch and targeting the thousands of Florida Republicans who have been casting absentee ballots since last month.
Given all that and with only nine days before the primary, there's no time for Gingrich to waste.
He was spending Sunday in Washington, attending a church service and working to raise money behind the scenes, including reaching out to former Perry donors who helped the Texas governor raise $17 million during the third quarter of 2011.
A giant plea for money also greeted visitors to Gingrich's website Sunday in hopes that fans of his books and time on the speaking circuit would donate.
Gingrich will have help.
Super PACs, like the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future that's independent of his campaign, are certain to play aggressively in Florida, perhaps to a greater level than they did in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
The independent groups can spend unlimited amounts of money in elections since federal court rulings in 2010 stripped away previous restrictions. The super PACs can't coordinate with campaigns, but many — including Gingrich's and Romney's — are staffed by people with ties to the candidates.
Already the pro-Romney super PAC — Restore Our Future — has spent a jaw-dropping $4 million in advertising in Florida, with Romney himself doling out nearly $2.5 million. Gingrich and his allies have yet to run an ad in the state.
At a deficit already, Winning Our Future and others supporting Gingrich expect that the spigot of money will continue flowing.
Still, they will be competing for dollars with super PACs supporting other candidates, particularly the Red, White and Blue Fund that's supporting former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
"Even if he gets 1 percent in South Carolina, I'm still for Rick," said Foster Friess, a Wyoming businessman who's been a major backer to the Santorum-leaning super PAC.
Gingrich's reliance on outside support is a reversal. He decried the influence of the independent groups in Iowa as they battered him in the state, and pledged to run a positive campaign. Then he kept losing. And a super PAC rushed to his defense.
The candidate himself has struggled to raise money this year despite being known for his fundraising prowess that dates to the 1990s when he engineered the Republican takeover of the House. After he left Congress, he turned his conservative political group, American Solutions for Winning the Future into a fundraising powerhouse, using the cash to continue a busy travel schedule that kept his name in the news. Gingrich owns the groups donor list.
When his campaign imploded last year, Gingrich relied on using that grass-roots network and social media to raise money.
"He's done well with less money than Romney," said John Grant, a Baptist leader and one of Gingrich's Florida evangelical chairmen. "It's because he's the atypical candidate."
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