Newt Gingrich’s Delaware GOP-Primary Strategy Flops as Romney Rolls

It was supposed to be another Georgia—but instead of springing Gingrich back to relevance, the Delaware primary was the scene of another thrashing. Patricia Murphy on Newt’s stubborn refusals to drop out.

04.25.12 4:09 AM ET

The tiny state of Delaware was supposed to give Newt Gingrich his big comeback. But after weeks of crisscrossing the state with his wife, Callista, Gingrich got trounced in the Republican primary there Tuesday night, losing 56 percent to 27 percent to Mitt Romney and racking up yet another loss in his string of defeats since winning his home state of Georgia six weeks ago.

Gingrich fared no better Tuesday night in the other four states voting, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, the last Gingrich’s birthplace and early childhood home. Although his campaign had predicted a strong finish there, Gingrich placed fourth in Pennsylvania behind Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum, who suspended his own presidential campaign weeks ago. Gingrich has won two of the 36 states that have voted for president.

Tuesday’s unmitigated wipeout left the former House speaker with little left to decide about his presidential campaign except when to quit and how. With his staff at a fraction of its former strength and his campaign more than $4 million in debt, Gingrich acknowledged as much when he spoke to supporters in North Carolina as the results came in.

“We’re going to look realistically at where we’re at,” he said. “We have worked very, very hard.”

Gingrich again vowed to go all the way to the Republican convention in Tampa in August, but for the first time said his purpose would be to ensure a conservative Republican platform there, not necessarily a conservative Republican nominee. Importantly, he also noted that he wanted his role in the remainder of the campaign to be whatever is most helpful to the Republican Party’s efforts to unseat President Obama.

“I want to do that as somebody who is a unifier and somebody who is realistic,” he said.

But true to the never-say-die form he has maintained through his roller-coaster campaign, Gingrich did not drop out of the race Tuesday night as some had expected. Instead, he made it clear he’s not ready to leave the stage just yet, especially with a schedule this week that includes a trip to the North Carolina zoo, a tour of the Richard Petty Museum, and throwing out the first pitch at the Garner Webb University baseball game.

“We have 23 events here in North Carolina this week, we’re going to be at 23 events in North Carolina this week,” he said.

The last drop of hope for the Gingrich camp had been focused on North Carolina’s primary on May 8, when advisers believed friendlier territory in a Southern state could lift their campaign out of its current rut and back into something resembling viability.

But the across-the-board clobbering that the former speaker endured Tuesday night made even an unlikely potential North Carolina win irrelevant. Romney swept up most of the 231 delegates in play and essentially delivered a speech to mark the end of the Republican primary, despite Gingrich’s and Paul’s continued presence in the race.

Hogan Gidley, communications director for Santorum’s presidential campaign, said different candidates have different reasons for leaving a race, but all have a core group of items to consider.

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“There’s a monetary reality, there’s a family reality, there’s a media reality,” he said. “There’s a lot of realities you have to factor in as you make the decision.”

For Santorum, family considerations, along with a more and more difficult path to the nomination, convinced him that it was time to leave the race, Gidley said. “He looked at it realistically and said, ‘There’s nothing else we can do. We can’t get to the number.’”

For Gingrich, money and math will likely be the factors that finally convince him to end his campaign, especially as dried-up funds make it harder and harder to pay for advertising, hold campaign events, and pay staff to man even a lean operation.

“Going into debt is a severe reality check for a campaign,” Gidley said. “Because all of the ideas and all of the ads and all of the plans for all the calls don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the money to do it.”