Report: Newt Won't Drop Out, Plans Convention Fight

Posted: Mar 16, 2012 4:03 PM

Very interesting stuff from NRO's Robert Costa:

“He never discussed dropping out, not even a whisper,” says one Gingrich staffer. “It was business as usual.” His youngest daughter, Jackie Cushman, concurs. “It was never tense,” she says. “People forget that he’s been running since 1974. He doesn’t get anxious.” Downstairs, the scene was more apprehensive. There was a dwindling crowd of Newt enthusiasts. After the networks declared Rick Santorum the winner of both Alabama and Mississippi, Beltway scribes began to write the campaign’s obituary. While Gingrich took the stage, however, his senior advisers conversed not so much about the defeats, but about Mitt Romney’s festering weakness. “We felt that this thing was moving in ways that no one had predicted, and that somehow we could actually survive,” says a second Gingrich aide.

Days later, that consensus remains. Gingrich is committed to staying in the race until the convention, according to his advisers. He believes that there will be chaos within the party come August, and that — with a bit of luck, a clever floor strategy, and a powerful speech — he could build a winning coalition. Or at least he could thwart Mitt Romney. “We believe that Romney will be unable to get the delegates needed to secure the nomination,” says Bob Walker, a senior Gingrich adviser. “Once that happens, and the floor opens, we know that we could unite people around our campaign.”

Moving forward, Newt's strategy hinges on running a shoe-string campaign, diligently adding to his modest delegate total, and making a dramatic and carefully calculated play at a contested convention in Tampa:

As one Gingrich aide explains, at the political level, it’s about mapping out the convention, bloc by bloc; at the communications level, it’s about framing the stakes; and at the financial level, it’s about sustaining the campaign via small-dollar donors and keeping expenses to a minimum. By August, after a potentially tumultuous 60-day period between the final primary and the convention, Gingrich’s campaign will be ready to make its case at the convention. “We are charging ahead,” says Leslie Gaines, the campaign’s deputy political director. “We will fight the good fight in Tampa. Remember, this is going to take some time. But in the end, the speaker continues to believe, as do we, that he is the only candidate who can beat President Obama.”

Santorum supporters may read this report with gritted teeth, but does Newt's apparent plan to stay in the race until the bitter end really damage the Pennsylvanian all that much?  According to a new Gallup poll, Newt's supporters would split almost evenly between Romney and Santorum if the former Speaker dropped out:

I think a strong case can be made that Newt's decision to stay in actually hurts Romney more than Santorum, particularly in light of the chart above.  As I outlined earlier in the week, neither Santorum nor anyone else has virtually any chance of overtaking Romney in the delegate count at this point.  The best Romney's rivals can hope for is a contested or brokered convention (which would delight Democrats, but that's separate issue).  If the field narrows to Romney vs. Santorum, Romney's task of reaching the magic 1,144 mark would become easier because Newt's exit would free up more delegates for him to collect -- even in losses -- due to proportional allocation.  What could plague Romney's campaign, however, is a long string of contests like Alabama and Mississippi's, where close (essentially) three-way finishes pinched the delegate winnings to a relative trickle.  Again, strong odds are that Romney will achieve a majority prior to the convention anyway, but a long, slow, diffused delegate bleed could complicate that math more than anything else

I'll leave you with four polls: (1) President Obama's job disapproval has again spiked to 50 percent.  (2) Bloomberg shows an exact tie between Obama and Romney in a general election, with the Republican carrying independents.  (3) Rasmussen shows Santorum, but not Romney, leading Obama in four key swing states.  (4) Romney maintains a significant nomination lead among national Republicans, and a high-single-digit lead in the next major primary (Illinois).

UPDATE - RCP's Scott Conroy agrees with me that Newt sticking around could be a blessing for the Santorum camp.

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