Image: Mitt Romney
Charles Dharapak  /  AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns at Ring Power Lift Trucks in Jacksonville, Fla., Monday, Jan. 30, 2012.
updated 1/30/2012 10:28:35 AM ET 2012-01-30T15:28:35

Mitt Romney's strength may be growing, but he won't secure the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday, even if he scores a convincing victory in Florida's primary.

His rivals have vowed to keep fighting well beyond the Jan. 31 election. But win or lose in Florida, the Romney machine is already executing an aggressive multi-state strategy designed to suffocate his opponents' chances as the GOP contest moves forward. And some Republicans say it's time for Romney's rivals to give up.

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"By traditional measures, a big Florida win for Romney would mean that this thing is just about wrapped up," said Todd Harris, a Washington-based Republican strategist with Florida ties. "Most Republicans think it's time to stop the infighting and start taking the campaign straight to President Obama."

Florida polls showed that Newt Gingrich briefly surged into the lead following his South Carolina victory just nine days ago. That lead is gone, according to an NBC News/Marist poll published Sunday. Romney now has support from 42 percent of likely Florida primary voters, compared with 27 percent for the former House speaker.

But even before he reclaimed the momentum in this rollercoaster race, Romney's advisers were looking ahead.

There are seven elections in February, beginning with Nevada's caucuses Saturday. A series of lower-profile contests — including a non-binding Missouri caucus — come over the next week in Colorado, Minnesota and Maine. They're followed by a 17-day break, which ends with primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28.

The mid-month break, bookended by states considered favorable to Romney, presents significant challenges for the other candidates, who trail Romney in both money and organization.

"I think the biggest thing to keep an eye on is that two-and-a-half-week down time between the 11th and the 28th," said Romney political director Rich Beeson. "If you don't have momentum and resources coming into it, it's going to be hard to have momentum and resources coming out of it."

Slideshow: Mitt Romney

Romney has consistently dominated his opponents in fundraising, reporting $19 million in his campaign account at the end of December. And his campaign distributed paid staff on the ground — months ago, in some cases — to bolster a growing network of local supporters. They include a combined 380 Republican officials across February voting states, eight members of Congress among them.

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Romney's advisers — and unaffiliated Republicans — see a widening path to victory beyond Florida.

"A lot of the contests are states he won four years ago. Some of them are big primary states like Michigan. Arizona, we didn't get to in 2008, but we think that's good, fertile territory for us," said Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. "Other states — Colorado, Minnesota, Maine — these are all contests we won in the past, where Mitt still retains a strong base of support."

The optimism is backed by reality on the ground.

While his opponents have struggled to compete in one state at a time, Romney has had paid staff in Nevada since June. He has already begun advertising there. More recently, the campaign dispatched staff to Colorado and Arizona. Top New Hampshire surrogates are headed to Maine in the coming days.

And Romney is scheduled to campaign across Nevada, Colorado and Minnesota before next Saturday, according to Fehrnstrom.

He's not the only one looking ahead. Texas Rep. Ron Paul is skipping Florida altogether in favor of the less-expensive February states. Rick Santorum — who's dealing with his daughter's illness — this weekend abandoned plans to campaign in Florida in favor of Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado and Nevada.

But building momentum in those states alone will be difficult. And Republicans with no stake in the campaign agree that Romney has tremendous advantages.

"You've got one campaign with vastly superior resources across the board," said Washington-based Republican strategist Phil Musser, adding that fundraising will be an increasingly daunting challenge for Romney's competitors should he win Florida.

Outside help from so-called super PACs could be ending as well. Gingrich's recent rise was aided by a wealthy supporter who recently funneled $10 million to an outside group dedicated to helping him.

"For super donors, the romantic period is over," Musser said before offering a warning. "If we've learned anything from this cycle, it's that there aren't many crystal balls that are clear."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Florida GOP push to rally behind Romney

  1. Closed captioning of: Florida GOP push to rally behind Romney

    >> tomorrow. if mitt romney wins florida on the heels of unrelenting series of attacks on newt gingrich and that appears to be paying off. with me now, mel martinez , a romney supporter and now the regional chairman with jpmorgan chase . nice to see you.

    >> good morning, chuck. good to be with you.

    >> as you might expect the gingrich campaign is not happy with how members of the romney establishment if you will have gone after speaker gingrich . here is fred thompson yesterday on "meet the press" on what he calls the romney attack machine.

    >> let's just say that romney is the nominee. he basically is plays mr. nice guy until someone gets close to him and then he unleashes his attack machine. that's what happened in iowa. it's what's happening in florida spending millions of dollars. i think they spent $16 million on television ads alone in florida .

    >> do you agree with senator thompson that mitt romney 's lead and now decisive lead is basically thanks mostly to this negative campaign against speaker gingrich ?

    >> i think governor romney is winning in florida because he's run a great campaign in florida . he has a lot of support in this state. he's winning across the board as you pointed out among hispanic his lead is enormous. it's an across the board thing. this is not like in the contest for political office people don't get rough at times. in fact, the governor has been the victim of that. newt gingrich has not spared him. he was calling him a massachusetts liberal in some of the pieces you just played. that's not complementary. the question really is, is this party ready to rally around a nominee that will have the best opportunity to defeat obama and who will make a good president at this point in time in the economic cycle in which we find ourselves. i think the people are beginning to come to the realization that governor romney gives us the best shot to not only live in november but to have a president who can really effectively lead the country and bring us together and deal with economic problems we face.

    >> one of the more shocking things in our last nbc/" wall street journal " poll and i talked to republicans concerneded about this is mitt romney 's personal rating upside down in poll speak. negative rating higher than his positive rating. the last time we saw that with any nominee at this point in time was john kerry . he had a short primary season and had the spring to basically fix his problems with the middle of the electorate. are you concerned mitt romney is not going to have the same amount of time that a john kerry had to make himself competitive with the incumbent?

    >> i don't think there's any question that it's critical that we begin to come together and the candidate have an opportunity to focus on the general election . i think governor romney has become a better candidate over the last couple weeks. campaigning in a large, diverse state like florida which you know so well, is a microcosm of our country has really made gor romney better and shown his strengths and ability to reach across all expespectrums of the electorate. i think he can get it together and be an effective general election candidate. i cringe at the blood letting as a republican and if we continue this to june, this only benefits president obama so i would hope that we can rally around the obvious nominee at some point when that becomes obvious. i'm not for shortening the process or any of that. i think at some point it becomes clear that governor romney is our nominee. speaker gingrich is not acceptable to majority of republicans and we need to rally around the person that will be our standard bearer .

    >> two quick questions. the tone of the rhetoric on immigration. can you concerned jeb bush expressing he wishes governor romney would lighten up on the dream act and other issues. are you in that same camp?

    >> i think the governor and i -- governor bush and i agree on the immigration issue. i've been -- i think the governor and i have had good conversations on this. i think he understands the issue very well. he has his views. we differ on them to some degree but the truth is he's not someone as speaker tried to label him who is anti-immigrant. talk about negative campaigning . that was negative. there's no truth to that. i think governor romney 's language continues to be better. and more understanding of the way that tone is so important. it's more important in tone than specifics of policy and so i will continue to counsel with him and we have a good relationship and a good understanding and it's not so much about differences in policies but a lot about tone.

    >> i want to play for you something governor romney said at a friday hispanic conference in miami on cuba . it raised eyebrows with me. take a listen.

    >> there is a time coming soon where cuba will be free. that's going to happen. we're going to have to get organized for it. we're going to have to recognize that the people there want freedom as people do all over the world and america can't sit back. i will not only say something when fidel castro leaves this earth, i will do something and be behind the voices of freedom here and voices of freedom there. we'll help cuba become free.

    >> a lot of politicians make promises during presidential campaigns about what to do about cuba . it sounded like governor romney was promising to get actively involved in cuba itself to try to do these things. what did you hear out of that?

    >> what i hear on that is i think he's going to be a strong supporter for the dissident movement in cuba , growing and rising dissident movement inside cuba and to be of assistance in whatever we can with the voices of freedom . pretty much like we did at the end of the cold war when the eastern european countries founded the united states through president reagan , pope john paul and margaret thatcher , there were world leaders willing to stand on the side of freedom and to assist those who were the voices of freedom within cuba . i don't think he's talking military action. i don't think he's talking about anything crazy. it is standing solidly with those who seek to have a different system in cuba that allows freedom to flourish.

    >> and very quickly, this issue of the obama administration lightening up travel restrictions to cuba , how is that playing? that splits the cuban community down in miami, doesn't it?

    >> it does. a lot of people like myself who have family there. it's important to be able to support them and assist them in some way. those family ties are deep in the cuban community as you well know, chuck. i think it does become a bit of a split issue. you know, i think there is also a lot of concern in the cuban community about the fact that a lot of the travel which whenever i hear people at dinner conversation saying i have friends in cuba last week, it's nothing more than tourism under the guys of a cultural exchange or whatever and subtlety behind that kind of thing. i think we're only aiding the regime by allowing subtle tourism into cuba at a time when they continue to suppress people in the very dramatic way. my hope is that the cuban people will have the opportunity to live in freedom . the castro brothers will leave the scene and will allow other voices -- half a century of governing or misgoverning a country, that seems long enough. we'll have a better situation if that can happen in cuba .

    >> senator mel martinez , always good to talk to you, sir.

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