MEDIA
02/01/2012 01:04 pm ET

Romney's Challengers Now Have To Cope With End Of The Hype-Filled Portion Of The Primary Process

One of the more effective ways Newt Gingrich has managed to galvanize voters and bring them to his side -- most notably, in South Carolina -- has been to savage the media for all of their sins. But if Newt criticizes the media and the media isn't around to write down, record, and broadcast his remarks to a national audience, will anyone hear about it? Because that's the problem that anyone not named Mitt Romney faces as the campaign trail leaves Florida and wends its way, silently, to Super Tuesday.

Over at BuzzFeed, John Ellis explains what's going to happen to the coverage of the primary season, now that the over-hyped early contests are over and the battalions of campaign embeds report back to their home offices to file for reimbursement of their travel expenses:

Plane fare, town cars, hotel rooms, rental cars, set up costs, satellite feeds, filing centers, edit rooms, "dinner with sources!" It was adding up to real money. All the while, back in the home offices, the accountants were writing anxious memos to the Executive Suits: "we have to get this spending under control! Forget about the primary/caucus season budget, we're already eating into the conventions budget! And those are in late August and early September. You, Great Suits, must do something, now! Otherwise we're going to have to look at ways to cut back general election coverage."

But never you worry; the Suits understand exactly the seriousness of the problem. Their bonuses are tied to profitability and, as in every presidential election cycle prior, "news gathering" was eating into the bottom line. Unchecked, it would eat right into their bonuses.

So, tonight, word will come down from the executive suites. Florida is definitive! Romney wins! Coverage of the campaign will adjust accordingly.

And what happens from here? Ellis says the days of "man-to-man coverage" of Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul is effectively over. And you can't say Ellis didn't warn anyone -- all he is doing is circling back to points he previously raised, writing for Business Insider: "What happened in the past and what will happen again in 2012 is that the media (broadly speaking) blow through their pre-primary budgets quickly, overspend on early caucus and primary coverage, and then cut back sharply to conserve funds for convention and general election coverage."

Ellis continued:

When Sen. John McCain won the South Carolina primary in 2008 (after winning the New Hampshire primary) he essentially won the GOP presidential nomination. Coverage of his opponents diminished (and in some cases evaporated). By the time of the first "Super Tuesday," McCain had been nominated by the media and coverage shifted almost exclusively to the battle between Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

Gingrich's best hope is to try to recreate that Obama-Clinton dynamic and bring back some of that 2008 melodrama. For Gingrich, the spirit is clearly willing, but everything else is weak. For starters, Santorum hasn't gone anywhere (neither has Paul, but Gingrich and Paul aren't competing for the same voters), so Gingrich won't be able to max out the not-Romney vote. He is also badly outgunned in terms of money and campaign infrastructure. Plus, if he wants to emulate Clinton, he will, at some point, have to win another state -- but Romney is likely going to be a heavy favorite in many of the states between now and Super Tuesday, especially Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Michigan.

And as the media's ground forces withdraw, their air force is pulling back as well. Romney's competitors have benefited all year from the relentless debate schedule. The podium has leveled the playing field between Romney and his cash-strapped competitors. That's where Gingrich damaged Romney the most, and it's also where Santorum has made some of his best arguments. No more. The next scheduled debate is not until Feb. 22.

That could change -- ratings for these debates have largely been strong -- but it's clear that the days of two-debates-a-week are over. On the other hand, the new golden age of campaign conference calls with reporters has just begun!

Previously, on the The Huffington Post: An Insider's Guide To 'How The Presidential Primary Process Actually Works'

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