Newt Gingrich, facing a double-digit loss to rival Mitt Romney that some predict will doom his presidential bid, sought to turn the results of Tuesday’s critical Florida primary into a victory, arguing that the contest is now defined as between himself and the former Massachusetts governor.
“Florida did something very important coming on top of South Carolina. It is now clear this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader Newt Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate,” Gingrich told a few hundred people in a half-empty ballroom here. “The voters of Florida really made that clear.”
Gingrich’s campaign has seen wild gyrations -- the former House speaker was deeply in debt and nearly his entire staff quit over the summer, but he surged to become a front-runner in Iowa in December before being pummeled by millions of dollars in attack ads there by Romney and his supporters. He badly lost Iowa and New Hampshire before picking up a come-from-behind victory in South Carolina, giving him momentum coming into Florida. But another barrage of attack ads and two lackluster debate performances eroded support for Gingrich here in recent days.
Gingrich, joined by his wife, Callista, his two daughters and their husbands, seemed defiant as he made his remarks in front of supporters holding signs that said “46 states to go.”
“We did this in part for the elite media, because you know the same people who said I was dead in June, July, said I was gone after Iowa, who seemed totally quiet after the South Carolina victory, are now going to be back: ‘What’s he going to do?’” Gingrich said. “I just wanted to reassure them tonight -- we are going to contest in every pace and we are going to win and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August.”
In reality, he has failed to qualify for the ballot in two states -- Virginia and Missouri, giving him at best a chance in 44 states. And therein lies the challenge: Gingrich is badly out-funded and out-organized by Romney, whom he never mentioned by name in his speech Tuesday night. Though Gingrich has one win under his belt, February is a slow month with few contests, so it will be difficult for him to regain any momentum in coming weeks.
He pushed back at the notion that his candidacy was over, noting that many political experts wrote him off before.
“We’re going to have people power defeat money power in the next six months,” he said. “And you may say, ‘How are we going to do that?’ The same way we came back in June and July, and by December we were ahead in the Gallop poll nationally by 12 or 13 points with no money. It turned out if you have ideas and you have solutions and you’re positive and you can communicate a better future and you have a history of actually doing something in the past, that the combination begins to reach the American people.”
Gingrich went into his standard stump speech, which includes a vision of his inaugural day, when he will sign bills from Congress repealing President Obama’s healthcare law, and sign scores of executive orders that eliminate all White House czars, move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and reverse what he deems to be anti-religion efforts by the Obama administration, amid other proposals.
“We’re going to put together a program, you’re going to see this is what a serious conservative president is like who is bold and is prepared to change Washington despite the screams of the establishment of both parties,” Gingrich said. "… I promise you that if I become your president, I pledge to you my life, my fortune and my sacred honor. This is about America.”