Herman Cain faces many head winds in his quest to win the Republican presidential nomination next year, but the biggest one is still likely to be money - as of last month, his available campaign funds accounted for a little more than 2 percent of the entire GOP field.
That means to win the nomination, he and most of the rest of the GOP field will have to do something that just one candidate, John McCain, has been able to do in the past five contested nominations, which is to thread the needle of a short, compressed primary schedule while being dramatically outspent by opponents.
Dating back to the 2000 nomination, every winner save Mr. McCain has either ranked first or second in terms of cash on hand at this point in the election, according to a Washington Times analysis.
That history bodes well for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and to a lesser extent Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who between them accounted for more than 80 percent of cash on hand among the entire GOP field, and accounted for 90 percent of available spending money once the campaigns' unpaid debts were subtracted.
"I don't see anyone right now who's got the potential of knocking off Romney," said Mo Elleithee, a Democratic strategist who has worked for four presidential campaigns, ranging from well-funded to the underfunded. "I think the guy is well-positioned, and even more important, no one else is well-positioned to knock him off his game in the early states."
It also lays out the stark challenge facing Mr. Cain, Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum and former Gov. John Huntsman Jr., all of whom hope to capitalize on the equalizing power of the Internet to make up for their finances.
"I'm not going to raise the kind of money Mitt Romney can raise," Mr. Gingrich, the latest in the revolving list of candidates to see his polling numbers rise, told Fox News last week. "So the question is can we find enough volunteers and can we use social media - Facebook, the Internet, Twitter - in order to compete with him? I think we can."
History suggests that the Internet can help, but usually it aids those who are already doing well, and even then is no guarantee of success.
Howard Dean, who pioneered online fundraising in 2003, surged in July, August and September that year, which is the key fundraising period in The Times' analysis. He went from having about 17 percent of the field's cash on hand to 32 percent by the end of those three months - and his prospects rose dramatically in Iowa before his spectacular collapse.
Barack Obama used the Internet to stay competitive in the Democratic primary race with Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2007. Both of those candidates easily outdistanced the rest of the field, accounting for nearly 80 percent of cash on hand as of Oct. 1.
George W. Bush set the gold standard in 1999, accounting for nearly 90 percent of the cash on hand of the GOP field after the third fundraising quarter. In the Democratic nomination race that year, Al Gore was neck-and-neck with Bill Bradley.
That leaves Mr. McCain as the outlier, and the person whom most in the current field are trying to match.
The Arizona Republican went into October 2007 with $3.5 million cash on hand, which accounted for 7.1 percent of the total GOP field's money at the time, ranking him sixth. By contrast, Mr. Romney had 18.9 percent of the money, and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani led the field with 36.1 percent of all funds.
Steve Duprey, a longtime New Hampshire operative and adviser to Mr. McCain, recalled the campaign's nadir in 2007, when the campaign fired its manager and deputy manager and struggled to find traction.
"We went to town meetings in April, May and June where there'd be 25 people. We'd have a nine-passenger van because we expected to be carrying press, and it would be the driver, John and me, and no press," he said.
But Mr. McCain built on the relationships he formed in the 2000 campaign in the kickoff primary state and refused to concede ground either politically or on the war in Iraq, which was the dominant issue for much of the race.
"He was tireless in how much time and effort he spent here. Granted, he had a one-state strategy so he could do so, but New Hampshire voters started to identify with the fact he was a fighter who wouldn't quit, and if he wouldn't quit on the New Hampshire primary, he wouldn't quit on the voters or the American people," Mr. Duprey said.
Mr. McCain was aided by Mike Huckabee's surprise victory in Iowa, which dented Mr. Romney's momentum. Mr. McCain powered through that opening on his way to the nomination.
This time, Mr. Romney remains the best-funded candidate, with Mr. Perry nipping at his heels. The rest of the field lags far behind, though analysts say changes to the GOP nomination rules that split convention delegates proportionally rather than a winner-take-all system in the early states could extend the fight. That makes a drawn-out battle similar to the Democrats' 2008 process a possibility.
There are other models for campaigns to look to besides Mr. McCain, including Sen. John F. Kerry's surprise victory in the 2004 Iowa caucuses over Mr. Dean. Mr. Kerry was the second-best-funded candidate at this point in the race, though, and his one-two punch in winning Iowa and then New Hampshire in quick succession boosted him to a relatively easy nomination victory.
Mr. Elleithee, the Democratic consultant, said that race also shows the pitfalls of depending on other candidates. At the time he was working for Wesley Clark, who seemed to have momentum in New Hampshire. The campaign's plan was to skip Iowa, where Mr. Dean appeared to have the race in hand, and then make a stand in New Hampshire as the anti-Dean candidate.
"A big part of our rationale in the insider game was we were the one guy that could stop Howard Dean from getting the nomination. Then Iowa came, and both John Kerry and John Edwards proved us wrong," he said.
Mr. Elleithee said there is still a chance for lesser-funded candidates to make a stand in early states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, but by the time the contests get to Florida - scheduled this year for Jan. 31 - and then on to more national races, money becomes an overwhelming factor.
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