Florida may well be a painful body blow, but Gingrich appears deadly serious about a long, bloody march all the way to Tampa — a scenario that is giving the GOP establishment nightmares.
(...) The new rules in which states will distribute their delegates proportionally instead of by winner-take-all rules means that Gingrich can keep accruing a sizable number of delegates even if Romney is besting him.
(...) Previewing his post-Florida message, Gingrich told reporters outside a megachurch here Sunday that he would seek to carry the Anybody But Mitt banner.
“When you take all the non-Romney votes, it’s very likely that at the convention there will be a non-Romney majority and maybe a very substantial one,” he said. “My job is to convert that into a Gingrich majority.”
Such Tampa talk has key party leaders worried.
Even as they breathe a sigh of relief about Romney’s apparent Florida turnaround, some party establishment types are nonetheless bracing for a protracted and ugly fight between factions that the GOP hasn’t seen for decades.
(...) Gingrich’s campaign is pointing to a group of Southern and Southwestern states with contests in March and April in which it thinks it will take at least a plurality of delegates: Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.
The campaign notes that after Florida, just 115 of the 2288 total delegates will have been awarded – just over 5 percent.
“The proportional nature of the upcoming contests essentially guarantees that no candidate will secure the nomination anytime soon, and the map gets better for us as we get deeper into the calendar,” said Gingrich adviser Kellyanne Conway.
Of course, presidential primary campaigns on the verge of losing the next state always like to take the long view. It’s especially crucial for Gingrich’s camp to make the case because Romney appears poised to do well in Nevada, Michigan and Arizona next month.
But Gingrich and his aides take heart in two factors unique to this campaign.
First, the former speaker has already collapsed twice and twice gotten back off the mat. If he can come back from losing his entire senior campaign staff, as he did last summer, and rebound from a shellacking and distant fourth-place finish in Iowa, why can’t he overcome a Florida loss?
Further, this primary has to date proved immune to momentum – each contest has been a discrete affair. Santorum got no bounce in New Hampshire after his virtual tie in Iowa and Romney enjoyed no boost in South Carolina after a convincing victory in New Hampshire. So even if Romney were to win big here Tuesday, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll immediately consolidate the party.
And, in addition to his limited future options, Gingrich’s past also suggests he’s in it for the long haul.
“He lost his first two races before he won in ’78,” noted Jackie Cushman, his daughter. “He just perseveres. I think of him as the Energizer bunny — he just keeps going.”
To keep beating the drum, Gingrich is going to need to step up his fundraising.
In a memo it released to the press Sunday night, the campaign said it is “now in a position where we will be able to respond to Romney’s ads in every state moving forward.”
What may be even more crucial, though, is whether casino magnate Sheldon Adelson keeps pumping money into Gingrich’s super PAC.
While he’s barred from coordinating plans, Gingrich will be in Las Vegas this week ahead of the Nevada caucuses and is likely to sit down with Adelson, according to sources.