He looked less like a contender for the US Presidency, and more like a combination of Comical Ali, the Iraqi PR minister famed for declarations of impending victory in the jaws of catastrophic defeat, and the finger-jabbing Kevin Keegan who once said: “we’re still fighting, and I tell you, I’ll love it if we beat them... love it!”
A simmering Newt Gingrich stood at a lectern at the Venetian resort in Las Vegas on Saturday night, and attempted to convince America that his campaign remains viable, following a second straight hammering at the polls.
He began by putting “one thing to rest. Or, at least, trying to: “I am a candidate for President of the United States. I will be a candidate for President of the United States.” Despite mischevious rumours to the contrary, he has no intention of quitting before the GOP convention in late August. “We will go Tampa.”
As a “true conservative,” Gingrich insisted that he can still beat a “pro-abortion, pro gun control, pro tax, George Soros approved candidate of the establishment”- even if Romney is running: “the most dishonest, dirty campaign I've seen in American politics.”
The former Speaker’s press conference replaced a traditional election-night “victory” celebration. It lasted a little over 20 minutes and was attended by the dwindling band of roughly two dozen reporters still being assigned to his events.
Across town, at a resort called Red Rocks, Mitt Romney was doing his best Cheshire Cat impersonation, as 600 electrified fans greeted his triumph in the Nevada Caucuses. With 71 percent of precincts reporting, Romney had 48 percent of the vote, more than double Gingrich’s 23 percent. Ron Paul was third, with 19 percent, and Rick Santorum had 11 percent.
Politics can be a cruel game, and in a campaign that looks increasingly tricky, Gingrich faced impertinent questions. At one point, a reporter asked if he’d found a way to “stop Romney getting inside“ his head. “I do not think Mitt Romney is in my head,” he replied, tartly. “That's an interesting analysis on your part, and I am sure with a psychiatric degree, it would get you a lot of new clients.”
He’d lost Nevada because he had been “outspent by five to one,” he argued. And in any case, this was a “very heavily Mormon state.”
Gingrich may very well return to the theme of Romney’s faith in advance “Super Tuesday” on March 6th, when the campaign hits Southern states dominated by evangelical Christians, who tend to dislike Mormons.
His supposed path to victory involves success in those key battlegrounds. He claims that he’ll then take a share of the lead, in terms of delegates pledged, after the Texas primary on April 3rd.
On paper, that’s a valid proposition. But in a race where momentum is everything, the calendar is stacked firmly against Gingrich: tomorrow will see Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri go to the polls. He trails Romney badly in the first two States, and is not even on the ballot in the third, after failing to file necessary paperwork.
Later this month, the race moves to Arizona, Michigan and Maine, which are all Romney heartlands. And even on Super Tuesday, Gingrich won’t have things entirely his own way, after also failing to make it on the ballot in Virginia.
In the meantime, his finances look increasingly grim. Gingrich met with donors on Friday night, to seek more cash. But yesterday’s Washington Post reported that his campaign is $600,000 in debt, while the New York Times suggested that his largest backer, the Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson may yet jump ship to the Romney camp.