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GOP path now winds cross-country toward Super Tuesday

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 7:23 PM EST, Wed February 1, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • There are eight caucuses or primaries between Florida's vote and Super Tuesday
  • The eight upcoming contests offer about 250 delegates
  • The March 6 Super Tuesday haul will be a total of 437 from 10 contests
  • Delegates needed to secure the nomination at the August convention: 1,144

Washington (CNN) -- Mitt Romney's primary victory in Florida takes on more significance when you consider what comes next.

The four remaining Republican presidential contenders face a set of caucuses and primaries in February and early March that yield relatively few convention delegates but will test the reach and organization of the respective campaigns.

On both counts, the better-funded Romney appears poised to continue his winning ways in states where he fared well in his initial presidential run in 2008.

Romney had a solid victory Tuesday in Florida's hotly contested primary. The former Massachusetts governor had 46%, compared with 32% for Newt Gingrich, 13% for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and 7% for Texas Rep. Ron Paul, according to the Florida Department of State.

There are eight caucuses or primaries in the five weeks between Florida's vote and the Super Tuesday group of 10 contests on March 6.

The eight upcoming contests offer about 250 delegates, while the Super Tuesday haul will be a total of 437.

Gingrich and Romney go after Obama
Santorum looks ahead to Nevada
Paul: 'I'll see you at the caucuses'

With 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination at the August convention, the coming five weeks are considered a bit of a lull after the frenetic climate of January, as the Iowa caucuses were followed by three primaries and punctuated with seven debates.

While none of the upcoming contests alone would represent a major victory, a breakthrough for trailing candidates such as Santorum or Paul would boost fundraising efforts.

At the same time, a pattern of victory by Romney or fellow front-runner Gingrich would create valuable momentum heading into the Super Tuesday showdown.

First up will be the February 4 caucuses in Nevada, a state Romney won in 2008 due in part to support from a sizable population of fellow Mormons.

Then come caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota on February 7, as well as Missouri's nonbinding primary. Romney won both Colorado and Minnesota last time, while the Missouri vote only sets the stage for later caucuses that will decide delegate allocation.

The Maine caucuses conclude February 11 in a state Romney also won in the 2008 primary. Then there is a break until the February 28 primaries in Michigan and Arizona, with a February 22 debate on CNN in between.

Romney, who grew up in Michigan as the son of three-term Gov. George Romney, won the GOP primary there in 2008. He finished second that year in Arizona to state native John McCain, the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

Completing the run-up to Super Tuesday will be the Washington state primary March 3. Last time, Romney dropped out of the GOP race two days before the Evergreen State voted.

This year, Romney narrowly lost the first nominating contest -- the Iowa caucuses -- to Santorum and then easily won the New Hampshire primary.

Gingrich surged back to win the first Southern primary in South Carolina, which neighbors his native Georgia.

That set up a Florida showdown that Romney claimed after his campaign and supporting super PACs poured in millions of dollars for negative ads against Gingrich.

Taking advantage of Romney's ample resources, his campaign has launched efforts in the upcoming contests, and he said Monday that he will head to Minnesota and Nevada after the Florida vote.

Santorum and Paul already have headed for upcoming caucus and primary states in a concession that they had no hope of grabbing delegates in winner-take-all Florida.

Gingrich's campaign, meanwhile, is tempering expectations for Michigan and Nevada and looking ahead to primaries in Southern states in March and beyond.

R.C. Hammond, the Gingrich campaign spokesman, called Arizona, Minnesota, Maine and Colorado the strongest states for the former House speaker in February, saying Nevada is the "toughest" challenge, and "we are not putting Michigan first" in terms of chances to win.

On Monday, Gingrich highlighted the Mormon population in Nevada as a factor that made the state "tricky," adding that he will "absolutely" campaign there.

Gingrich's campaign also sought to blunt any sense of momentum by Romney by issuing an analysis Monday that noted the former House speaker leads in national polls and will benefit from upcoming contests that award delegates on a proportional basis.

"Mitt Romney has failed to consolidate conservatives in each of the first four contests with every notable grassroots conservative endorsement -- Herman Cain, Fred Thompson, Michael Reagan, Rick Perry and others -- going to Newt Gingrich," said the document by Martin Baker, Gingrich's national political director.

No matter who won Florida, according to Baker's analysis issued before the Sunshine State primary, neither Romney nor Gingrich will have gotten 10% of the 1,144 convention delegates needed to win.

"There is a long way to go before either candidate clinches the nomination, and this campaign will continue for months," Baker said.

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