'World News' Political Insights: Money Race Points to Two-Man GOP Race

Cain's surge aside, Team Obama trains sights on Romney early -- and often.

October 16, 2011, 8:28 PM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2011— -- If you're looking for some clarity in the fluid race for the Republican nomination, the numbers show that while much as changed, the fundamentals remain the same.

Fundraising figures released over the weekend demonstrate that only two Republican candidates -- Mitt Romney and Rick Perry -- enter the dash to the nomination with both the financial support and the campaign infrastructure that equip them fully to compete.

And the Obama campaign -- eager to ensure that no candidates get free rides in the primaries -- has already begun making assumptions about whom President Obama is likely to face in the general election. That means Romney is coming under pressure from both sides, even as he seeks to consolidate Republican support early in the process.

Before we get there, Romney and Perry remain the frontrunners for the nomination. One of them remains overwhelmingly likely to secure the GOP nod.

The other candidates -- led by Herman Cain, whose burst in the polls has been the story of the last week -- have nowhere near the combination of fundraising muscle and on-the-ground activists that Perry and Romney have.

Cain, along with Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, could be factors in the nominating fight, but remain long-shots for actually winning.

Below them in the financial pecking order are Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who need the equivalent of a miracle to vault into contention. Then there's Jon Huntsman, whose latest campaign debt -- despite a $2.25 million cash infusion by the candidate himself -- is only the latest sign that a candidacy hasn't caught fire.

The numbers suggest that Romney and Perry are set to dominate the balance of the campaign, and their campaign balances will be doing much of the talking for them.

Romney has put together the most impressive financial operation this side of Barack Obama. He's amassed a warchest of $14.6 million to spend in the primaries, and more big GOP fundraisers are breaking Romney's way by the week, helped by high-profile endorsements and a growing sense of establishment momentum behind his candidacy.

But Romney has been spending at a prodigious clip. He burned through more than $12 million last quarter, as he's built out a campaign staff and infrastructure in all the early-voting states.

Perry hasn't spent at nearly the same rate. He built up a $15 million campaign account by raising $17 million in just seven weeks as a candidate. With a well-earned reputation as a campaigner who isn't afraid of going negative, he can employ a scorched-earth strategy on Romney and any others he chooses.

Then there's Cain. He reported having just $1.3 million in cash on hand. The money he has spent has been used to build almost no campaign apparatus to speak of.

Last week, with Cain on a book tour in Tennessee and doing more television interviews than actual campaigning, ABC News visited Cain's Iowa headquarters.

"We're trying hard to get Mr. Cain here in October, and hopefully we'll be able to achieve that," Larry Tuel, the campaign's Iowa director, told ABC.

Tuel will get his goal. But Cain will be hard-pressed to put a competitive campaign together this late, even in an Iowa race that remains wide open three months out.

Romney heads to Iowa this week, as his campaign considers making a play for the state he tried and failed to secure four years ago. Investing there this time around would be a high-risk, high-reward play for Romney: a win there could make what looked likely to be a long primary quite short, but a loss could diminish his aura of inevitability.

Through it all, it's telling that the Obama campaign is training its fire on one candidate, to the exclusion of virtually all the others.

Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod, now in Chicago where he works full-time on the campaign, previewed a piece of what could be general-election messaging on ABC's "This Week" today -- going right at Romney.

"Time and time and time again he shifts -- and you get the feeling that there is no principle too large for him to throw over in pursuit of political office," Axelrod said.

Obama's team may not get the man they're counting on. But they don't want him to waltz to the nomination without a taste of what's to come -- and without a first crack at the kinds of definitions Obama will need to establish if he's going to win a second term.

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