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Why February will be the cruelest month for Newt Gingrich

at 01:00 PM ET, 01/30/2012

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is already looking beyond Florida’s primary on Tuesday, insisting that he is in the race to stay — all the way through the party’s convention late this summer.

“This race is going to go on,” Gingrich said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “The conservatives clearly are rejecting Romney. He is nowhere near getting a majority.”


U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich stands during a rally in Jacksonville, Florida January 30, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
That may be true. (Romney is nowhere near winning a majority of delegates.) But a look at the next month in the Republican campaign suggests that February could be a very cruel month for Gingrich.

As we write in our Monday Fix newspaper column:

From Feb. 1 to March 5, only three major contests will allocate delegates: Nevada’s caucuses (Feb. 4) and primaries in Arizona and Michigan (Feb. 28). Ten states will vote on March 6 — Super Tuesday — including big population hubs such as Ohio and Virginia.....
....A Florida win — particularly a convincing one in the double-digit range — would set up Romney very nicely for the slow month of February. He is a clear favorite to win the Nevada caucuses — he took 51 percent of the vote there in 2008, in large part because of the state’s Mormon population — and should be favored in Michigan, the state where he was born and his father served as governor, and Arizona, another state with many Mormons.

The calendar over the next month creates the real possibility that Gingrich will not win a single contest between Jan. 21 (South Carolina) and March 6 (Super Tuesday).

“Gingrich really needed to follow South Carolina with a win in Florida to turn this into a real barn burner,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committeeman from Mississippi. “That seems most unlikely, so Romney will have more money, organization and momentum heading into states where he should win anyway.”

Gingrich’s hope lies in lasting through February — no easy prospect given that he will struggle for money and organizational energy if he comes up well short in Florida tomorrow.

“If Mitt wins Florida, the nomination process is over,” predicted Sally Bradshaw, a political adviser to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “Everything shifts for him as it did for [Arizona Sen. John] McCain in 2008 — more resources, more endorsements, those in the party who still have doubts will know that he’s the man.”

Gingrich has to hope that Bradshaw is wrong and/or that Sheldon Adelson, the wealthy casino magnate who has pumped $10 million into a pro-Gingrich super PAC, continues to write big checks. Without Adelson’s largesse, it’s difficult to see how Gingrich raises the sort of money he would need to remain as a viable Romney alternative through the next month.

If Gingrich does manage to pull that trick off — he does have considerable experience living off the land politically — Super Tuesday does have some promise as Tennessee, Georgia and Oklahoma should be favorably territory for him. (Romney is very likely to win, Virginia, Massachusetts and Ohio.)

The next month will be a test of Gingrich’s resolve and his belief — beyond his rhetoric — that Romney is simply an insufficiently conservative standard-bearer.

Put simply: Pushing the race through to Super Tuesday is a political risk for Gingrich, one that would likely be seen as an unforgivable sin for much of the party establishment.

Does Newt care?

 
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