Even before the caucuses were convened in Iowa, Mitt Romney’s campaign announced a new phase of its paid media effort in Florida. It was the latest indication that the top contender for the GOP nomination was already looking past the lead off state and toward the end of January when the real measure of his campaign will be taken.

New Hampshire, which votes Jan. 10, is widely considered a banked win for the former Massachusetts governor. But South Carolina, where he’s typically placed first or second in polls, could now be more competitive if the conservative wing of the party unites behind Rick Santorum.

The former Pennsylvania senator finished a very close second to Romney in Iowa by relentlessly campaigning at the retail level and he’s made a similar effort in South Carolina. Romney won Iowa by just 8 votes. 

Should Romney suffer a setback in the first southern primary on Jan. 21, he’s counting on his cash advantage to batter his surviving opponents on the air in the Sunshine State.He finished second in Florida last cycle behind John McCain, who now appears set to endorse Romney. His camp will be hoping that leads to an improved performance.

Still, there are troubling signs for the presumptive nominee.Romney's performance in Iowa remained static despite four additional years of campaigning and a weaker GOP field. Unless he improves on his 2008 showing in South Carolina and, more importantly, in Florida, he could face a much longer, steeper climb to the nomination.