February to be long month for Gingrich in uphill battle

By Andy Sullivan, Reuters

WASHINGTON — For Newt Gingrich, February could be the longest month.

Despite Tuesday’s resounding defeat in Florida, the former speaker of the House of Representatives has vowed to battle front-runner Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential race until the party formally nominates a candidate in August. “We’re going to have people power defeat money power in the next six months,” he said on Tuesday as supporters waved signs that read “46 States to Go.” First, Gingrich will have to survive the next few weeks. He faces long odds in Nevada’s Feb. 4 caucuses and several other state nominating contests that follow in the race to determine who will oppose Democratic President Barack Obama in November. In a candidacy that has been buoyed by televised debates, Gingrich won’t face Romney on stage again until Feb. 22. Fundraising could dry up due to a perceived loss of momentum. And as the playing field expands from coast to coast, Gingrich’s seat-of-the-pants operation will have to compete with a Romney campaign that has been methodically building a nationwide organization since 2008. “The Gingrich campaign faces a Bataan Death March for the next three weeks, with little opportunity to raise money, change the dynamic, break Romney’s momentum or exert real pressure,” Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said. After declaring his campaign dead twice so far, pundits have learned never to count Gingrich out. Much of Gingrich’s staff deserted him last June as he vacationed in Greece with his wife shortly after announcing his candidacy. He climbed to front-runner status in December, then finished in fourth place in the first two nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire in January. Gingrich sprang back to life in South Carolina, capturing the support of Tea Party conservatives who viewed Romney’s moderate record as governor of Massachusetts with suspicion.

“Newt has proven that he can live off the land for extended periods of time,” said Rich Galen, a former Gingrich aide who is staying neutral in the Republican nomination battle. Despite Tuesday’s loss, Gingrich strategists believe he can still win the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination, particularly if he can do well in conservative southern states that vote on March 6. Gingrich expects to do well in his home state of Georgia on “Super Tuesday,” as well as other conservative states like Tennessee and Oklahoma that vote that day. Alabama and Mississippi, which vote a week later, could give him additional victories in the South. Romney’s victory in Florida gives him 71 delegates to Gingrich’s 23. Because most states now award delegates on a proportional basis, even California’s June primary could be relevant. It will be mathematically impossible for Romney, or any candidate, to win the delegates needed to secure the nomination before late March, according to Chris Krueger, an analyst with Guggenheim Washington Research Group. The Gingrich campaign says it raised US$5 million in January and US$10 million in the three months before that — enough, they argue, to compete with the better-funded Romney campaign.