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Gingrich pleads his case before smaller crowds

When Newt Gingrich came to this state after a heady come-from-behind victory in South Carolina, he and his wife, Callista, would often marvel at the crowds he was attracting -- thousands of people who would arrive hours early to see the former House speaker.

Now, after a pair of lackluster debate performances and a multimillion-dollar barrage of attack ads by Mitt Romney and his supporters, Gingrich’s support has dropped in the polls, and speculation is about not whether Romney will win the state’s 50 delegates, but by how many points.

As he kicked off a five-city tour Monday, the candidate’s straits were evident. At his first event, Gingrich was greeted by fewer than 100 people in a partly empty hotel conference room. He acknowledged that he was the underdog.

“We need you,” he said. “We have closed the gap a lot.... We have a chance now in the next 24 hours to finish the job.”

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In a last-minute bid to boost his position, Gingrich hopscotched across the state, a trip marked by half-empty spaces and small crowds. He launched fresh attacks on Romney and argued that he is the GOP’s only hope of defeating President Obama.

“Why would anybody in the establishment think that a Massachusetts moderate -- which is a liberal by Republican standards -- pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase, pro-gay rights, why would they think he’s going to be able to debate Barack Obama?” Gingrich said.

His campaign remained chaotic. Even though he was flying between events, Gingrich was consistently late, often appearing an hour after he was scheduled to speak. The campaign scheduled a midday news conference and then abruptly canceled it.

Gingrich appeared with Herman Cain, who endorsed him Saturday and whom the crowds adored. The former pizza chain chief, who dropped his own presidential bid in December amid allegations of sexual harassment and adultery, urged the crowd to keep fighting for Gingrich.

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“The liberals, the administration and President Obama, they want you to believe the game is over,” he told 200 people in a half-empty airplane hangar in Tampa. “The game’s just starting. It is not over. Stay inspired. Stay inspired.”

Gingrich pleaded with the crowd to work hard for him.

“Let me be clear, we really need your help,” Gingrich said in Tampa. “We need you on Facebook, we need you Twittering if that’s what you do, we need you emailing, we need you calling people, and

A victory Tuesday night would show the establishment that “money power can’t beat people power,” Gingrich said. “People power depends on conservatism, and we’re determined to take back our own country.”

seema.mehta@latimes.com


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