Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Newt Gingrich’s campaign distributed blue signs to supporters that read “46 States to Go” before he took the stage the night of his loss to Mitt Romney in Florida’s Republican presidential primary this week.
The slogan underscores that just four states have voted in the nomination race. It also doesn’t square with the reality of a Gingrich campaign lacking the money and organization to effectively compete in all the upcoming contests.
“It was reminiscent of ‘Baghdad Bob’ touting the invincibility of the Iraqi Army during the fall of Baghdad,” said Tim Miller, an aide to the now-defunct campaign of Jon Huntsman Jr., referring to the information minister for dictator Saddam Hussein.
“The reality is Newt hasn’t learned from his past mistakes, and he’s completely unwilling to run the type of disciplined campaign necessary to win,” said Miller, whose former boss endorsed Romney after exiting the Republican race on Jan. 16.
Gingrich arrived in Nevada yesterday after finishing 14 points behind Romney in Florida’s Jan. 31 primary. At a rally in Reno, he cast his plans for a continuing fight with his rival as one of historical significance within the Republican Party, with parallels to the battle then-insurgent Ronald Reagan waged against then-President Gerald Ford 36 years ago.
“This is as big a debate as the Reagan-Ford debate of 1976,” Gingrich said. “This is a fundamental question about the future of the country, the future of the Republican Party and the future of the conservative movement.”
Reagan, after losing the party’s first five primaries, stormed back to upend Ford in North Carolina and carried his quest for the nomination all the way to the national convention, where he was finally thwarted.
In his race, Reagan had the advantage of united conservative support. Gingrich still must compete for anti-Romney voters with former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas.
Reagan also could spotlight an issue that clearly differentiated himself from Ford and fired up the conservative base: his opposition to the talks Ford conducted to give Panama control of the Panama Canal. Gingrich lacks such a clarifying issue in his race against Romney.
Miller, the former Huntsman aide, is skeptical about Gingrich’s ability to articulate a winning appeal to voters. The former U.S. House speaker, he said, is “liable to spend more time complaining than actually delivering a message to voters.”
Gingrich reiterated his commitment to a protracted campaign in his nighttime speech to supporters in Orlando after it was clear Romney had triumphed in Florida.
“We are going to contest every place and we are going to win, and we will be in Tampa as the nominee in August,” he said.
His proposed war of attrition doesn’t mesh with the requirements of competing against Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and business executive who has constructed a campaign that is already built-out in the next primary and caucus states and vastly better funded than Gingrich’s.
Romney raised $57 million in 2011 for his campaign, including $24 million during the year’s final three months, according to Federal Election Commission reports. He ended 2011 with $20 million in his campaign bank account.
The Gingrich camp raised $12.7 million in 2011, including $9.8 million during the final quarter. At year’s end, he had $2.1 million in the bank and $1.2 million in reported debts.
Gingrich has remained viable in part because of $10 million contributed to Winning Our Future, a political action committee supporting his candidacy, by Sheldon Adelson and his wife. Adelson, a casino executive based in Las Vegas, hasn’t said whether he plans to make additional donations.
Gingrich dismissed Romney’s money superiority in his Reno comments yesterday, telling his backers, “We are going to pit people power against money power in this campaign.”
Referring to the spending disparities between the campaigns in Florida, Gingrich also said, “I don’t think Governor Romney can afford to outspend us 5-1 everyplace in the country.”
Still, as the Republican candidates head into contests in late February and early March that will award hundreds of the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination, the next few weeks will be especially challenging for Gingrich.
His surges in support have coincided with strong debate performances. So far, only one debate is scheduled this month: Feb. 22 in Mesa, Arizona.
Romney, meanwhile, rebounded from his 12-point loss to Gingrich in South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary in part because of a more aggressive stance he took in two debates preceding the Florida vote. Romney said yesterday his performances, aided by recently hired debate coach Brett O’Donnell, had “overwhelmingly the biggest impact” on the outcome in Florida.
February’s six delegate selection contests start with this weekend’s Nevada and Maine caucuses. Colorado and Minnesota hold caucuses on Feb. 7, followed by primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28. A nonbinding primary also occurs Feb. 7 in Missouri; the state’s delegates will be allotted through a later caucus process.
Many of the upcoming contests will award delegates on a proportional basis, rather than winner-take-all as was the case in Florida, which gives all three of Romney’s rivals an incentive to stay in the race. Still, Maine offers a glimpse of the staffing challenges Gingrich faces in the delegate hunt.
“Both Romney and Paul have an extensive team here,” said Charlie Webster, chairman of the state’s Republican Party. “Neither Santorum nor Newt seems to have any great presence.”
The primaries at month’s end will garner the most attention because of the size of Michigan, the nation’s eighth most populous state, and Arizona, the 16th. Romney has potential advantages in both states.
Born in Michigan, he was raised in a Detroit suburb and his father served as the state’s governor. The tough stance he has taken on combating illegal immigration should help in Arizona, where Republican officials pushed into law a crackdown measure that the federal government is suing to block.
The results in Florida -- the first contest that offered a model of the diverse American electorate -- provided worrisome trends for Gingrich in a big state.
Romney beat Gingrich in the urban centers of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach County, in the cities of Southwest Florida, across a swath of Central Florida from Tampa to Orlando and Daytona Beach, and in northeast Jacksonville. Gingrich defeated Romney in 35 less-populated counties, painting a contrast between Romney’s urban and suburban support and Gingrich’s appeal to rural Republicans.
The signs at Gingrich’s Orlando appearance notwithstanding, his 46-state strategy already faces one insurmountable obstacle. Gingrich, along with Santorum, failed to meet the qualification requirements to appear on Virginia’s March 6 primary ballot.
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