Fresh off a 1-for-10 showing on Super Tuesday, Newt Gingrich barnstormed Alabama at five stops from Mobile to Birmingham, insisting at every event that he has no intention of dropping out of the Republican presidential fight, despite calls from Rick Santorum’s Super PAC to do so.
“I am staying in this race,” he told a crowd of 150 in Birmingham.
The question Wednesday was how long Gingrich would stay in, especially after canceling events in Kansas in order to focus on the upcoming primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, states that Gingrich's spokesman said were must-win for his boss to go on. "Everything between Spartanburg all the way to Texas, those all need to go for Gingrich,” R.C. Hammond said, according to The Washington Post.
At the Pell City civic center earlier, he told more than 400 chanting supporters that Alabama and Mississippi’s primaries next Tuesday will give him a chance to “reset the race for maybe the ninth time this year.”
He also offered to debate Barack Obama at any gas station in America and warned that both Mitt Romney and Santorum will do nothing more than “manage the decay of Washington.”
But just as important as what he said in Alabama was what the suddenly spooked candidate did not say to the national press trailing him. After months of regaling reporters and audiences with his Do-It-Yourself campaign strategy, he refused Wednesday to answer questions about the state of the race.
He also broke his habit of holding press conferences after every nearly event and pushed back on shouted questions about process by saying he’s only talking policy.
Gingrich’s national spokesman, R.C. Hammond, did talk process and dismissed the Santorum camp’s drop-out calls as wishful thinking.
“No one’s leaving,” he told The Daily Beast, adding that Gingrich has not been contacted by Santorum or any representatives.
“It’s a nice thought to have,” Hammond said. “But it would be like the Boston Red Sox manager on opening day saying, ‘Gee, it would be really good for us to win the AL East if the Yankees just didn’t compete in the games.”
Hammond described Santorum and Romney as deeply flawed candidates who cannot win a general election against President Obama.
“Given the choice between beating Barack Obama or helping Mitt Romney lose in the general election, Republicans will turn to Gingrich.”
But Hammond also described a circuitous, almost bizarre, potential path to victory for Gingrich that would snake West from the Deep South, “finishing hot” in California and Texas, and ending with a midsummer campaign for the 500 or so unbound GOP delegates who will go into the Republican convention uncommitted, even though their states will have all voted.
“These guys are only obligated for so long, so if you’re the candidate in the last quarter of this race who finishes hot, there’s a lot of chance you’ll pick up those guys,” he said.
“There’s a chance to go back into some of these states and relitigate the awarding of a lot of these delegates.”
But would it really be good for the party for the nominee to win on a technicality?
“The [RNC] made that judgment two years ago in Kansas City,” Hammond said.
The Alabama voters whom Grinrgich wooed Wednesday night knew nothing of the “finish hot” strategy, but they said they don’t want the former speaker to leave the race.
“I think that’s what everybody wants Newt to do, because if he gets out, all we have left is Romney,” said Jarrett Franklin, 27. “But I don’t think Santorum is a strong enough leader.”
Jarrett’s brother, Miles, 25, also said Gingrich should ignore calls to leave the race.
“I think by far he is the best candidate and the total opposite of Obama, and that’s what we need.”
Sarah Bragan, from Chelsea, Ala., who remembers seeing Dwight Eisenhower when he was president, called Gingrich the best leader for the country.
“He’s strong, he has a heart for America,” she said. Should Newt get out like Santorum’s people want? “No! I think that’s wrong. I think maybe they need to get out of the race instead.”