By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Newt Gingrich's path to the Republican presidential nomination looks as hard as a mission to the moon, but he is still dreaming of the skies.
The conservative known for his big ideas and love of space travel is relying on a few long-shot scenarios in a White House bid that is running out of money and losing voter support.
Gingrich stands at 11 percent support among Republicans nationally and receives far less coverage from media who have feted his main rival Mitt Romney as the presumptive nominee.
Gingrich is ignoring strong hints from party leaders to join Rick Santorum and bail out of the race and rally around Romney in the name of party unity.
Instead, the former House of Representatives speaker is still campaigning to small crowds in states like Delaware and North Carolina, boasting of being "the last conservative standing" and hoping for a miracle.
"Newt very much understands what the odds are," said his spokesman, R.C. Hammond.
Gingrich's most realistic idea is to stay in the race long enough to be given a key role at the convention in Tampa as the main conservative speaker.
"The campaign's over, whether he realizes it or not," said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. "I think right now he's auditioning for his role at the Republican convention."
Gingrich's favorite scenario - albeit an unlikely one - is that he picks up enough delegates from conservative states like Texas to challenge Romney at the party convention in August, if the former Massachusetts governor fails to win the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination before then.
"In that assessment, Newt stands a chance at being chosen to lead the party," said a senior adviser, Bob Walker.
"Even if that doesn't take place, we will certainly be in a position to have a good deal of influence on the direction of the party going forward."
THE X FACTOR
If all else fails and the money lasts, Gingrich can pin his hopes on an unexpected twist in the campaign that would catapult him on top.
"At the end of the day, there's the X factor," Hammond said. "No one is saying there's a high percentage that X could happen that turns the campaign, but that's the world we live in now."
Gingrich had his moment in the sun in January when he defeated Romney in South Carolina. The victory gave him a surge of support and vaulted him into the front-runner slot.
His momentum quickly fizzled in the next state of the Republican battle, Florida, when Romney's forces unleashed attacks against him.
Not helping was a much-lampooned Gingrich comment to laid-off space workers in Florida's Cape Canaveral in January that he would support setting up a permanent base on the moon.
Gingrich remains upbeat, despite cutting staff by a third in March and falling into debt.
"Everywhere I travel, people come up to me and encourage me to stay in the race and fight for conservative values and principles," he said after Santorum left the race.
Gingrich has been pushing a U.S. energy plan to reduce sky-rocketing gasoline prices from the $4-a-gallon range to $2.50 and promoting a conservative idea to address soaring entitlement program costs by creating private accounts for younger workers in the Social Security system.
"I'm going to continue doing what I do best which is talking about big solutions," Gingrich told CNN.
Romney, he said, does not yet have the nomination locked up, and "I have every right to continue campaigning until he wins."
Gingrich had an unlucky incident this week that fed a narrative of a campaign struggling financially through no fault of his staff.
A clerical error led to a bounced $500 check paid to Utah election officials to allow him to get on the ballot there. It turns out Utah authorities waited so long to cash the check that the Gingrich team had closed the account. A new one was issued.
(Editing By Alistair Bell and David Brunnstrom)