Commentary From CBS 11 News Political Reporter Jack FinkBy Jack Fink

A rotarian who won a raffle hands his winnings to Republican Presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum prior to him speaking at a Rotary Club breakfast in Manchester New Hampshire on January 05, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Santorum gave the money back to the club. (credit: Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It can’t be said often enough that money is the mother’s milk of politics. You can tell a lot about the candidate’s campaign by the amount of money he or she raises.

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Texas Governor Rick Perry quit the presidential race on January 19, two days before the South Carolina primary. His downfall began in the debates and, not surprisingly, his performance sharply damaged his fundraising. Records filed with the Federal Election Commission show the Perry campaign raised just $2.9 million from October 1 through December 31 of last year. That’s a huge drop from the $17.2 million Governor Perry raised during the third quarter when he entered the race last August.

As our political analyst John Weekley said, fundraisers don’t want to bet on a loser, and after the Governor’s stumbles and “oops” moment, the bottom fell out. Now, Perry’s financial backers are deciding between Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, or whether to stay on the sidelines until they see who the nominee is in the end.

Gingrich is trailing Romney in Florida by an average of 12 points. Some recent polls show it as a five-point race. Others show Romney with a 15 to 20 point lead. Regardless, Gingrich vows to stay in the race until the national convention this August.

Many states are awarding delegates in a proportional manner, so Gingrich may be able to keep fighting. But he still needs money to campaign. Gingrich’s campaign says he raised $10 million during the fourth quarter last year, and another $5 million in January.

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At this writing, we’re awaiting final details for Romney. Previous reports estimated he could raise $24 million during the fourth quarter. All along, Romney has had the fundraising and organization to go the distance. If he wins Florida, as expected, then he will certainly have the momentum going into the quiet political month of February when there are just six states holding contests: Nevada, Maine, Minnesota, Colorado, Michigan and Arizona. Three of them are key battleground states in the general election: Nevada, Colorado, and Michigan.

Santorum and Ron Paul already gave up on Florida to concentrate on these other states.

The next big prize is Super Tuesday on March 6 when voters in Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, and Vermont all go to the polls.

Texas used to be part of Super Tuesday, but because of the redistricting battle now being fought in the courts between Republicans and Democrats, it’s been pushed back until April 3, and few people think it will happen that soon. Most are expecting yet another delay. Depending on how the race is going, Texas could play a deciding factor in the race to the nomination or have no impact whatsoever if the race is largely over.

So for now, Republicans and Democrats will wait to see how well Romney and Gingrich do in Florida, and if and how much nastier and uglier the race between the two of them can get.

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