BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The promised third dramatic comeback this was not.
Newt Gingrich’s defeats in his must-win home region of the Deep South on Tuesday ensure that his White House bid is all but over – even if he refuses to acknowledge as much.
The stubborn former House speaker is vowing to stay in the race even though he’s low on cash and facing pressure to step aside after losses in Mississippi and Alabama. In doing so, he could end up damaging his legacy in a party he helped build. Yet that seems to be a risk he’s willing to take, for now at least.
“Why would I walk off from my party and leave them with two people who can’t win?” Gingrich told The Associated Press. He insisted he would stay in the contest even if he lost in the region that’s home to Georgia, which he represented in Congress for two decades.
It’s been a roller coaster of a campaign for Gingrich, who entered the race a year ago only to watch his campaign implode weeks later. He spent last summer laying low, only to surge in the weeks before the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3. He didn’t win them but managed to rise again to win the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21. He endured six weeks of losses before crushing his rivals in his home state of Georgia. He then looked to neighboring Southern states for a third and final rebirth.
But it didn’t happen.
Gingrich finished second in both Mississippi and Alabama behind Rick Santorum, who cemented his place as the preferred conservative alternative to GOP front-runner Mitt Romney. The losses blew a 400-mile wide hole in the former Georgia lawmaker’s plan to stitch together victories across the South, the heart of the GOP base.
Publicly undeterred, Gingrich and his wife, Callista, traveled to Illinois on Wednesday to campaign there ahead of its primary Tuesday, and he’s promising to take his fight to the party’s national convention in Florida in late August.
“He believes he can do this. But he and Callista are probably the only two people who believe it,” said former top Gingrich aide Rich Galen, a GOP strategist.
The two biggest questions hanging over the race are whether Gingrich drops out and whether his largest financial backer – casino titan Sheldon Adelson – will continue to open his wallet for a pro-Gingrich super political action committee that has run millions of dollars in TV ads on his behalf.
Gingrich aides argue that he can still win the nomination before the convention by racking up uncommitted delegates who could decide to back him. They also said the nominating contest has yet to reach its halfway point and that a strong second half could sway uncommitted delegates to his campaign.