“We are going to contest every place and we are going to win, and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August,” Gingrich said following his second-place finish, declaring that “people power” will defeat “money power” over the next six months.
Gingrich’s money — or lack thereof — could determine his fate. His campaign reported having $2.1 million in the bank, but $1.2 million in debt, at the end of December, according to new financial forms released on Tuesday. While he raised another $5 million over the course of the last month, he spent another $1.7 million on advertisements alone in Florida — cutting sharply into his cash on hand. Gingrich’s ability to stay in the race will also depend on the willingness of one billionaire donor, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, to continue funding the “super PAC” backing the former speaker.
Yet according to Gingrich, the campaign will be fueled as it was during its darkest days earlier in the race — by ideas, and by attacks.
Even before the Florida results were in, Gingrich launched a fresh assault on Mitt Romney and President Obama, saying there is hardly daylight between the two. Gingrich also called Romney a liar for the content of some of his negative ads. The goal, Gingrich said, is to drive home the point that voting for Romney is akin to granting Obama a second term.
“I didn’t realize how true that was until yesterday, when George Soros, a very well-known, ultra-left billionaire, gave an interview in Europe,” Gingrich in Orlando before balloting finished. “He said, ‘There’s really no difference between Romney and Obama. They’re both fine as far was we are concerned. But no Gingrich — that would be a real shame.’ ”
At the same time, Gingrich has begun expounding on the number of major actions he would take upon entering the White House in an effort to show how different a president he would be from Romney and Obama. In recent days, he said he would overturn Obama’s health-care program, eliminate the White House “czars” on various issues, repeal the Dodd-Frank banking overhaul and approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline deal. On Tuesday night, he listed those promises and added another: that he would not sing in public, unlike Obama and Romney, who have recently crooned on stage.
Above all, Gingrich cast himself as the clear outsider, even as he envisioned himself in the Oval Office.
“We’re putting together a people’s campaign, not a Republican campaign, not an establishment campaign, not a Wall Street campaign,” Gingrich said Tuesday night. “We ask you to join us in imposing it on the establishment and imposing it on both parties.”
Still, the Florida results were clear. Gingrich suffered a resounding defeat among conservatives and other groups of voters, especially women. Going forward, it may be difficult for him to regain momentum and convince voters — and donors — that he can still win the nomination.
Gingrich is counting on some factors and discounting others. He needs former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses, to drop out. Santorum has shown no sign that this is imminent, announcing a campaign schedule in Nevada and Colorado and expanding to include bus and airplane charters for the traveling media.
Gingrich is also counting on a strong showing in several upcoming southern states — notably his home state of Georgia, which will vote on March 6. Other states Gingrich deems friendly with approaching contests include Tennessee, also on March 6; Alabama on March 13; and Texas on April 3.
The Gingrich logic is that these conservative states will gravitate to him much like South Carolina did in January. He cites his Southern roots, his support within the tea party movement and his promise to bring more conservative reform to Washington among the factors that could tip the balance in his favor.
Yet after securing endorsements from prominent conservatives — from Texas Gov. Rick Perry to Herman Cain — he still fell flat in Florida. Even praise from Sarah Palin, who urged Floridians to vote for Gingrich to “rage against the machine,” did not help.
If Gingrich has admitted a mistake of his own, it was his performance during last Thursday’s debate, in which he failed to offer a zinging delivery. Gingrich blamed Romney’s misstatements, claiming he was left speechless by his opponent’s remarks.
Since that moment, Gingrich said, he has been formulating a new path forward, one similar to the path he followed earlier in the campaign: pointed attacks.
The first time he cratered last spring, Gingrich rebuilt his popularity with debate performances, regularly smacking the media and Obama. The second time, in December, after Romney and his supporters spent millions on negative ads in Iowa, Gingrich aimed his ire at Romney.
This time, Gingrich said, the assault on Romney will be more intense than ever.
Staff writers T.W. Farnam, Dan Eggen and Nia-Malika Henderson contributed to this report.
Read more on PostPolitics.com
Romney wins big in Florida
Space for alternative to Romney shrinks
How Romney’s win changes the race