In the short term, Newt Gingrich's strong victory Saturday in South Carolina's Republican presidential primary might not have much of an impact in Missouri -- where he's not even on the ballot for the state's non-binding presidential primary Feb. 7.
The former speaker of the U.S. House also has a long way to go to catch up with his chief rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who long has had a commanding lead in Missouri, when it comes to endorsements and cash.
Romney has been the top recipient of campaign cash from Missouri, collecting at least $627,980 from donors in the state through 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks campaign donations on its website. About 85 percent of Romney's Missouri money came from the St. Louis area, the center says.
Gingrich, by contrast, collected only $33,450 in the state through last year, according to the center's figures. Like Romney, Gingrich raised the bulk of that money -- $25,700 -- in the St. Louis area.
(President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is the No. 2 presidential recipient of Missouri campaign money, receiving $442,660 through 2011. About 75 percent of his money came from the St. Louis region, according to the center's calculations.)
Gingrich has yet to announce any prominent Republican backers in Missouri, unlike Romney, who has most of the endorsements made by GOP officials in the state so far.
Romney's outspoken backers include U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo. -- who has been publicly trashing Gingrich for weeks, on behalf of Romney -- and state Auditor Tom Schweich.
Romney also has the hefty support of prominent industry magnate Sam Fox, founder of Harbour Group, who serves as Romney's finance co-chair in the state.
Federal records show that aside from donating directly to Romney, Fox also has given at least $90,000 to the independent group Restore Our Future running ads elsewhere on Romney's behalf.
Such money and support sets the scene for Missouri's Feb. 7 primary, even if it officially isn't supposed to mean anything -- for Republicans, that is.
The state Republican Party has decided not to use the Feb. 7 presidential primary to award delegates, saying it must ignore the primary to avoid sanctions from the Republican National Committee, which has ordered most states to wait until March 1 to hold primaries and caucuses.
(The Democratic National Committee has decided that Missouri's Feb. 7 primary can count, on the Democratic side, after state party leaders successfully made their case that it was the Republican-controlled General Assembly that blocked bills moving the state's primary to March.)
Gingrich has said that the state GOP's decision is why he didn't file as a candidate for Missouri's presidential primary, although all the other Republican contenders did -- including many out of the race.
Departed presidential contenders Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain will be among the 10 Republicans listed on Missouri's Republican primary ballot. Obama is the only well-known Democrat among four candidates on that party's Feb. 7 roster of presidential hopefuls.
Still, some Republicans privately contend that a strong Feb. 7 finish in Missouri could offer a political boost to the GOP presidential hopeful who wins the most votes -- perhaps helping his chances in the state's caucus process beginning in mid-March.
For Republicans, the caucus system, which continues into June, will determine who is awarded presidential delegates and who those delegates will be.
Caucuses tend to favor candidates with the strongest grassroots army. It's unclear yet if Gingrich plans to try to amass one. Romney apparently already has.
Republican activists have said for weeks that Missouri could have an impact in the presidential contest, if the battle is still under way when the state's March caucuses roll around.
Start of update: Blunt, who is spearheading Romney's successful efforts to win endorsements on Capitol Hill, sought Monday, in an interview with Beacon Washington correspondent Robert Koenig, to portray the Romney-Gingrich contest as healthy for the party. He said that the eventual GOP nominee would probably benefit from the party's "healthy debate" now happening in the primaries and caucuses.
"A healthy debate's a good thing," said Blunt. "The opportunity that Gov. Romney now has to explain the role that investors and job creators play in a capitalistic society is a good opportunity, and he should take full advantage of it. And I think he'll find better footing on that topic because of Newt's challenge."
Blunt, who describes Gingrich as "a friend," has avoided criticizing the former speaker of the House. He said that he did not know any major political figure in Missouri who had endorsed Gingrich. While Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, endorsed Perry, Blunt said he had not yet approached Graves about possibly switching his endorsement to Romney.
"Some of the ideas that Newt is bringing to the table are things that Republicans and our [presidential] candidate will be discussing from now to November." End of update.