Without Newt

Imagining Gingrich Gone

03.08.12 3:45 PM ET

The GOP nomination has now become Mitt Romney’s to lose. Mathematically, no other candidate can come close to the delegate threshold. But Rick Santorum believes that he can still keep pressure on the former Massachusetts governor if only Newt Gingrich stepped out of the race. With Gingrich gone, Santorum claims he could be more competitive in Alabama and Mississippi, which both vote on Tuesday. Two strong wins for Santorum can help revive his media exposure and fundraising, and keep Romney in his ongoing struggle to seal the deal. “It is time for Newt Gingrich to exit the Republican nominating process,” said Stuart Roy, an adviser to Santorum’s PAC, said yesterday. “Newt has become a hindrance to a conservative alternative.”

Gingrich, naturally, has resisted efforts to end his bid early. But the race may move on without him. Three weeks ago, the firm Public Policy Polling started leaving Gingrich off the ballot, asking voters who they preferred between Romney, Santorum and Ron Paul. “If there were only one – Gingrich or Santorum – it would’ve made things a lot tougher for Romney, so we decided to test that question,” says Jim Williams, polling specialist for PPP. The numbers have backed up Santorum’s claim, too. If Gingrich didn’t run in Ohio or Washington, Santorum would have been substantially more competitive in both, according to hypothetical polling.

Such decisions haven’t pleased Team Gingrich. PPP says it was deluged with tweets from angry Gingrich supporters for dropping their candidate from some poll questions. But those supporters online aren't exactly materializing into momentum. On Wednesday, Gingrich’s web sentiment was measured at -44, the lowest of any candidate, President Obama included, according to the Election Oracle.

The reason for Gingrich’s backers’ discomfort may be how much being squeezed out of the race may soon mirror reality. Gingrich’s advisors had planned a comeback on the heels of Georgia’s recent primary, which Gingrich won handily. But when little bounce resulted, the path toward a third reincarnation of his campaign is becoming steeper and steeper. The more relevant question for Gingrich might be how best to position himself before he bows out, to keep his influence and remain a party elder. Yet Rick Santorum, for one, would certainly like him to ponder that question on the sideline.