If Newt Gingrich drops out of the GOP primary after losing in Alabama and Mississippi yesterday, it could enable Rick Santorum to unite conservatives against Mitt Romney. Though Romney is still the favorite for the nomination, it’s conceivable that a head-to-head contest could ensure it drags on longer, perhaps damaging Romney further for the general election.
The key question is whether the pro-Newt super PAC will be able to continue operating. The super PAC’s operations have been largely funded by billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, whose money has effectively kept Gingrich’s candidacy afloat.
John Harwood of the New York Times last night quoted a friend of Adelson saying that he had written his “last check.”
I just checked in with Rick Tyler, the head of the pro-Newt super PAC . Asked if he could continue operating without Adelson’s money, Tyler conceded: “Fundraising will be challenging.”
But Tyler vowed that the PAC would continue operating as best it could as long as Gingrich stayed in the race. Asked why Gingrich should continue after two losses that seem to render the cause hopeless, Tyler said the pro-Gingrich forces were betting on a contested convention, and would take it all the way to August.
Tyler predicted that Romney would fall short of the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination, and that Romney would not win them in the first round of balloting, which would lead to a second round of convention voting in which “all bets are off.”
Because of this, Tyler insisted, there’s a “wide open possibility that someone else will capture the nomimation.”
To be sure, this scenario is extremely far fetched. And Gingrich, who has vowed to continue, could easily change his mind in a few days and drop out, particularly since prominent conservatives like Bill Kristol are calling for a two-man race on the theory that it would give the GOP better odds of beating Obama.
But for now, at least, the pro-Newt forces aren’t ready to give up. This could help Romney by denying Santorum the one-on-one contest he wants, but it also ensures that the chaos and division will only continue.