Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has only won two of the 21 states that have voted so far in the 2012 Republican presidential primary process. He hasn’t finished above third in 17 of the other 19 contests.

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, accompanied by his wife Callista, speaks at a rally in Montgomery, Ala., Wednesday, March 7, 2012. (AP Photo/David Bundy)

“Based on his electoral performance last night and his out-of-step record it is time for Newt Gingrich to exit the Republican nominating process,” said Stuart Roy who runs the Red, White & Blue Fund, a Santorum-aligned super PAC.

Legendary conservative activist Richard Viguerie sounded a similar sentiment in a statement released today.“Looking at last night’s numbers, it has become increasing clear that the former Speaker can either be a kingmaker or a spoiler,” said Viguerie. “Because, to unite conservatives, Gingrich would have to suspend his campaign and endorse Rick Santorum for the Republican nomination for president.”

Gingrich, not surprisingly, is having none of the dropout talk — insisting that he would drop out of the race if he thought Santorum could beat Romney and then best Obama. Except, he doesn’t. “I think each of the three candidates has strengths and weaknesses and that this is a very healthy vetting process,” added Gingrich.

Gingrich is right. He shouldn’t drop out of the race. At least not yet. Here’s why.

A quick look at the calendar for the rest of March tells the story. The marquee contests next Tuesday are in the South when Alabama and Mississippi are set to vote. (Hawaii also votes that day.) Louisiana holds it caucuses on March 24.

Gingrich has already made clear today that he will focus all of his time and resources over the next few weeks in the South, skipping the Kansas caucuses — set for this Saturday — in the process. “Everything between Spartanburg all the way to Texas, those all need to go for Gingrich,” said campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond.

If Gingrich can win in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana — and, to be clear, that’s a big “if” — he will have stockpiled enough delegates in the most reliably Republican region in the country to give himself a bit of bargaining power with the eventual nominee.

So, let’s think about this from Gingrich’s perspective for a minute. If he drops out now, he is playing kingmaker to Santorum who, according to the hard facts of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s delegate advantage, is unlikely to wind up as the nominee.

If he holds out and can score wins in the deep South over the next three weeks — not entirely out of the question — then Gingrich is in a position to cut a deal with Romney who will be looking for ways to consolidate support and close out the nomination by then.

And, under the latter scenario, there is an outside chance that Gingrich re-emerges (again) as the conservative alternative to Romney. It’s not likely to happen but given the unpredictability of the Republican presidential race to date, no one should feel good about making hard and fast predictions about where this thing is headed.

Another few weeks in the race has the possibility to do Gingrich a world of good when it comes to his bargaining power when he ultimately decides to bow out. He’s smart to stay in.