Despite all the time and energy that the presidential candidates have devoted to raising money for 2008, those millions won't be enough. Super Tuesday on Feb. 5 — when more than two dozen states hold their primaries — is big enough to break any bank account.
After winning Tuesday's Michigan primary, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's battle cry may be "On to South Carolina," but just a week ago he was yanking his ads off the air in the Palmetto State so he could put them on the air in Michigan.
In fact, Romney may have hit a low point a week ago Wednesday, when some of his big-money fundraisers went to work in a boiler-room-style setup. Romney gave them a pep talk.
"So hit the phones today, make all the promises you have to, and make sure that we get the funds that we need to keep on propelling this campaign forward with power and energy," he said.
But later on, the numbers didn't look all that good. Five million dollars raised, but three-fourths of it from people who had already given the legal limit for the primaries. That means Romney could use only $1.5 million of it now.
All the Republicans are strapped for cash. GOP consultant Eddie Mahe says each of them has to pick a few states for Feb. 5 and spend like mad in them.
"If you don't win something on Feb. 5, the rest of the money isn't going to do you any good," he says.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is targeting Florida on Jan. 29. Another Republican consultant, Bill Greener, notes that even if he wins there, Giuliani's bounce for Feb. 5 could be limited.
"I don't think that there are enough hours in the day or media time available if you had all the money in the world to pursue an advertising approach," he says.
On Feb. 5, Giuliani may run hardest on his home turf: New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. All three are winner-take-all states, with a total of 183 delegates among them.
Observers say former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson will likely find their campaigns cramped by a lack of funds.
But Arizona Sen. John McCain seems to have a lot of potential. After nearly going bust last summer, he celebrated a spike in online fundraising after winning New Hampshire.
"That's the inevitable result of a victory, and we're very pleased at it," he said.
But it was a behind-the-scenes move that really saved McCain's campaign. He had to borrow money — not unusual for a campaign. In the old days, when most candidates took federal matching funds, he would have borrowed against the promise of those funds.
Instead, he used his campaign mailing list and future fundraising prospects to borrow against.
That allowed him to forgo matching funds, even though he qualified for them. It's critical because the matching funds come with tight limits on spending — limits that would have let McCain's rivals leave him in the dust.
"It was a brilliant one, because if he would have gone matching funds, he couldn't have competed," Mahe says.
One Democrat, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, went the other way. Trailing far behind the fundraising of Sens. Hillary Clinton (NY) and Barack Obama (IL), he has qualified for nearly $9 million in federal money.
But there's that spending cap. It's less than either Clinton or Obama has already spent. Edwards' campaign manager, David Bonior, insists that the cap is OK.
"We believe that with the $54 million cap and with the judicious spending through the primary and caucus season, that we can be and will be competitive throughout," he says.
Clinton and Obama each raised about $100 million last year. But that doesn't mean they are letting up.
Last week, Clinton's finance director, Jonathan Mantz, was on a conference call, urging the campaign's money people to bring in another $10,000 apiece this month.
"We have 500 people on this call," he said. "I want to have everyone do as much as they can and make a special effort this week to fulfill the full $10,000 that each of you, I know, can raise. Ten thousand dollars — you've gone so far past that level. Go back to your networks. Go back to the people that have not made the decision to contribute, to support us yet, and go back to them."
Last year, the two top Democrats could afford to plan ahead and think big. But now, they are going to have to pick and choose their states — just like everyone else.