Rick Santorum may be coming up strong, but does he have the fuel to finish? As candidates near that peculiar phenomenon of the presidential-primary season known as "Super Tuesday," the GOP rivals of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may not be able to afford the advertising blitz needed to carry that day.
Having spent most of the money they raised last year, the Republican candidates are taking advantage of a lull in the campaign to frantically seek more cash so they can compete in the seven states that hold primaries and the three that hold caucuses March 6.
The super PACs that support these candidates are also refueling.
According to Federal Election Commission reports, Mr. Romney raised about $56 million last year, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas raised almost $26 million and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich $12.6 million.
Mr. Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania whose recent victories in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado have turned the bid for the GOP nomination into a two-man contest between him and Mr. Romney, raised the least -- a paltry $2.2 million.
The question then, is will Mr. Santorum, who will likely continue to have a fundraising disadvantage, be able to afford the kind of advertising needed to get his message across a wide swath of the nation on Super Tuesday?
"Santorum has been raising money at a fast clip since his trifecta last Tuesday," said University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato. "I assume a few more million will be forthcoming since he's riding high in the polls. The cash register always rings when the polls look good."
Mr. Santorum's campaign has raised about $3 million after his sweep of victories last week.
But Mr. Sabato said the candidate is still very dependent on "his billionaire financial angel from Wyoming," Foster Friess, a donor to conservative causes who made his fortune in mutual funds. Mr. Friess is a major contributor to the Red, White and Blue PAC, which spent nearly half a million dollars in last-minute ads in Iowa that helped give Mr. Santorum a surprise victory in the nation's first primary of the season. That PAC is expected to step into play on Super Tuesday.
But not all states will be equal when it comes to advertising on that day.
Mr. Sabato said Mr. Santorum will target Oklahoma and perhaps Idaho. Mr. Gingrich will focus on his home state of Georgia, and Mr. Romney will spend his time and money on Massachusetts, Virginia, Vermont and possibly Idaho.
"And all three candidates will also go hard on TV in Ohio and Tennessee," Mr. Sabato said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Paul's focus will continue to be caucus states Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota, where less TV advertising is required, Mr. Sabato said.
Mr. Paul may also want to advertise in Virginia, since he and Mr. Romney are the only candidates on the ballot there.
But before Super Tuesday, the Republican hopefuls will compete in primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28 and in the March 3 Washington state caucuses.
For Mr. Romney, Michigan -- where his father was once governor -- is a must-win. The Restore Our Future PAC that supports him has spent more than $1 million in advertising in the state, most of it on attack ads against Mr. Santorum. Mr. Romney's campaign has also invested $1.2 million in ads in Michigan this week.
Mr. Santorum, a Roman Catholic, says he wants to "plant his flag" in Michigan, where about a third of the Republican primary voters are Catholic. But the candidate has invested only about $42,000 in advertising there. Fidelis, a Catholic-based super PAC that helped Mr. Santorum win Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, may come to the underfunded candidate's aid once again.
Meanwhile, Restore Our Future has bought ads in Ohio, which becomes the most important state after the Feb. 28 balloting.
Ohio not only has 66 delegates in play but will be a crucial swing state in the general election. Since the state is one of the top-10 media markets, the battle is expected to be costly.
As is allowed in Florida, ballots can be cast early in Ohio. Restore Our Future helped destroy Mr. Gingrich by pouring money into the Sunshine State before anyone else, allowing Mr. Romney to dominate the early voting there. The super PAC is using the same strategy against Mr. Santorum in Ohio.
Bill Lanesey, the general manager of WXIX-19, a Fox affiliate in Cincinnati, said he's running the Restore Our Future attack ads. He also said Mr. Gingrich's campaign has called him for rates.
"But so far it's been small dollars," Mr. Lanesey said.
Les Vann, the general manager of WKRC, a CBS affiliate in Cincinnati, expects ad dollars to flow into Ohio next week and accelerate after the Arizona and Michigan primaries.
But there is another presidential candidate who is already running advertisements in Ohio and many other key states—President Barack Obama.
While the GOP candidates expend their resources pummeling each other in what could be a long fight, the president, who has no primary challenger, raised more last year than any of his potential rivals put together -- more than $125 million.
Mr. Obama has also grudgingly accepted the help of a new super PAC, Priorities USA, which is run by some of his former aides.