"I think he's going to stay in there, and I think he probably will play the Fred Thompson role," said Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, referring to the "Law & Order" star's entrance into the 2008 GOP primary that some conservatives blame for siphoning off votes from Mike Huckabee. "He'll be the spoiler, quite possibly."
On Tuesday, Gingrich swatted aside National Review's suggestion to quit, predicting that "in a few weeks" he'd be back at the top of the Gallup poll. He also repeated his belief that the nominating contest won't end until the Republican Party's convention after the primary ends. Other conservatives have said the same; Sarah Palin over the weekend told an annual gathering of conservative activists in Washington that a drawn-out fight would battle-test the eventual nominee for the better.
Not all conservatives who are avoiding an endorsement agree.
"I think it would be better if it were resolved before the convention," said Ralph Reed, the religious leader who built up the Christian Coalition. Reed suggested, though, that calling on Gingrich to quit the race early would have "the opposite of the intended effect."
"You tell him he ought to get out — he's going to dig his heels in even harder, so I just don't think it's real smart," Reed said.
Brent Bozell, the conservative media figure, said he would advise Gingrich: "Until you're out of bullets, keep firing."
Some of Gingrich's more prominent supporters acknowledged that he has skidded into a rough patch in the primary, but they laughed off the idea of him quitting. "Money makes a difference, and I don't know, frankly, I don't know what the condition of Newt's campaign is financially," said former Rep. Bob Livingston. "Rick says he's picking up some money in the last few days, and he may well be. Romney seems to have unlimited funds."
Gingrich's endorsers, however, appear to be fairly fond of Santorum.
"Oh, I would say that if Newt got out of the race, I would support Santorum," said Fred Grandy, the actor who played Gopher on "The Love Boat" in the 1970s and who later was a congressman from Iowa. "I think no matter what you take away from the pageantry of the Republican presidential sweepstakes, there clearly is a cry for a winning conservative candidate. That's what Newt and Rick Santorum I think are vying for right now."
Conservative leaders describe Santorum's latest surge as firmer than the peaks that characterized the Republican primary in December and the early January contests. They say that Santorum's hat trick in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri has solidified some of his support and given him the appearance of a real candidate for possibly the first time in the race.
They also point to a meeting they convened in Texas in the middle of January, when 150 influential religious and conservative leaders formed a consensus around backing Santorum to stop Romney from winning the nomination. Some of those who were there now say their efforts to spread support for Santorum have paid off palpably.
"They're going to go back to their grassroots," Land said. "They're going to plant seeds. They're going to fertilize."