Gingrich Team Braces for a Last Stand ... Maybe

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center on March 6, 2012, in Huntsville, Ala.

Nobody knows what Newt Gingrich is thinking, but as calls for him to quit the race begin to pile up, his campaign is preparing for a Custer-like stand in two primaries on Tuesday.

The primaries are in Alabama and Mississippi, key states that Gingrich's campaign hopes will reward the former House speaker who has boasted of his southern appeal.

On Super Tuesday this week, Gingrich won only one contest, his home state of Georgia. He lost a nearby vote in Tennessee to Rick Santorum.

People working for Gingrich's campaign underscore the crucial importance of next Tuesday's votes in Alabama and Mississippi, where wins could lift the candidate not only in the South but in bigger primary states to come.

"For Newt, these two primaries are going to be extremely important," said a Republican strategist who asked not to be named.

Gingrich is feeling the heat to win; DeLinda Ridings, the former director of his campaign in South Carolina, where Gingrich won a resounding early primary victory, said, "Now is the time to start manning up and making those concrete decisions" about ending his bid for the nomination.

Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who has endorsed Santorum, said Thursday, after unveiling a poll of 200,000 conservatives, that "there is great admiration for Newt Gingrich's contributions to conservatism, as well as his debating abilities. But the overwhelming sentiment was that he could most help the conservative cause by standing with Santorum so that voters have a clear choice in the remaining primaries."

Stuart Roy, an adviser to the "super PAC" supporting Santorum, said in a statement after Super Tuesday that "it is time for Newt Gingrich to exit the Republican nominating process." He argued that Santorum would have won the primaries in Ohio and Michigan without Gingrich siphoning off conservative voters.

Richard Viguerie, the chairman of www.conservativehq.com, has also begged Gingrich to consider quitting. After Super Tuesday he wrote, "It has become increasingly clear that the former speaker can either be a kingmaker or a spoiler, because, to unite conservatives, Gingrich would have to suspend his campaign and endorse Rick Santorum for the Republican nomination for President."

People on the campaign say there's no talk of Gingrich doing that. In fact, Gingrich's campaign staff in Arlington, Va., have started working on strategies to leverage the delegates Gingrich wins on the floor of the Republican convention in August.

R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for Gingrich, replied "yes" to reporters when asked if the candidate needed to win in both Alabama and Mississippi in order to stay viable. He walked back his absolution to ABC News, but he did concede that Gingrich needs a credible showing in both states, and he said he fully expects Gingrich to win enough delegates to continue in the race.

Bob Livingston, a former congressman from Louisiana who has endorsed Gingrich, said, "It's going to be tough for him to get a majority of the delegates at this point."

"If he doesn't carry those states, then he's really got to think about it," Livingston said.

Many of Gingrich's supporters are still standing by him, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, arguing that the volatile nature of the primary allows for candidates to rise and fall and rise again.

Tony Shipley, a state representative in Tennessee who worked on Gingrich's campaign in the state, turned the tables. "It's time for Santorum to step down and make Newt the president," he said. "We're going to stay in this thing until the convention."

ABC News's Jonathan Karl contributed reporting for this story.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...