LONG BEACH, Calif. — It's momentum vs. money in a sprint to Super Tuesday that could determine the Republican presidential nominee.
Arizona Sen. John McCain has the momentum, after back-to-back victories in the South Carolina and Florida primaries and a series of high-profile endorsements. He added California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Missouri Sen. Jack Danforth on Thursday.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has the money, and is willing to spend more of his estimated $250 million fortune to keep his candidacy alive. He'd lent his campaign $17 million as of September.
The battleground: 21 states across the country that vote in Republican contests Tuesday. The field seems to favor McCain, but he does have some challenges.
His status as the new front-runner is invaluable. His name recognition and positive approval ratings also are key factors that should help him in the brief dash to Super Tuesday. A recent USA Today/Gallup Poll showed McCain with a 59 percent approval rating, while 29 percent viewed him unfavorably. Romney's approval rating was 32 percent, while 42 percent viewed him unfavorably.
But McCain's greatest strength is tireless retail campaigning, answering question after question at as many town-hall meeting as his staff can schedule. There's little time for that now, and reciting prepared speeches to large crowds may be McCain's biggest weakness as a politician.
His campaign will focus on national security, electability and touting his endorsements as he roams the country until Tuesday, strategist Steve Schmidt said.
McCain did see his once-moribund fundraising increase after his big New Hampshire win Jan. 8. He raised $7 million in January, and more cash is coming. He had seven fundraisers scheduled between Florida's primary last Tuesday and Super Tuesday.
"Money follows prospects for victory," said Costas Panagopoulos, a political scientist at Fordham University. "As the prospects for a McCain nomination strengthen, his fundraising abilities also strengthen."
Still, McCain will never match Romney in the money game. But his aides say they're not worried about it.
"Mitt Romney can buy all the ads and have all the gross ratings points he wants," Schmidt said. "At this point in a campaign, it's votes and delegates that matter."
Romney has aired negative ads against his chief opponents in every state contest so far. A barrage of such ads, capitalizing on conservatives' long antipathy toward McCain, is Romney's best hope for victory in at least some states, especially those with "closed" primaries, in which only registered Republicans can vote.
Romney will hit McCain on immigration and voting against the Bush tax cuts, said Tony Strickland, Romney's California campaign chairman. Romney also will stress his "unique background," spokesman Matt Rhoades said: "He's a governor, he's not from Washington and he's a business executive."
The campaign hopes that surrogates can rev up supporters and that the Romney organization — in place much longer than McCain's, thanks largely to Romney's early money advantage — will help mitigate the senator's momentum.
But ads won't have much time to sink in. Romney aides say they'll cede Northeastern states to McCain and focus instead on the West and South.
And unlimited money can take you only so far. Romney spent millions in Iowa and New Hampshire and lost both states. He aired more than 4,000 television ads in Florida, McCain fewer than 500. Romney still lost — in a closed, Republican-only primary.
Romney also hopes to find free media — news coverage — in key states, Rhoades said. Prime targets are states in which Romney can do an event or two and get statewide coverage, such as Georgia, Tennessee, Colorado and Minnesota. California is also on the list, since a Los Angeles-area event reaches one-third of the state. That's one reason that Romney held a news conference Thursday in Long Beach.
Among Romney's talking points: McCain "said 'no' to Bush tax cuts . . . and he says 'yes' to amnesty."
(Stearns reported from Washington.)