BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A final Deep South stand could be at hand for the Newt Gingrich campaign, as it said victories in Tuesday’s primaries in Alabama and Mississippi are crucial to remaining in the Republican presidential race.
Gingrich resisted cries that he ditch his campaign Wednesday after winning just one state – his old home of Georgia – on Super Tuesday, and he scrapped plans to visit the Kansas caucuses to focus on the pair of states he thinks he can win next week.
“We are staying in this race because I believe it is going to be impossible for a moderate to win in the general election,” Gingrich said at a rally in Montgomery, Ala., one of three he held in the state Wednesday, greeted by hundreds of enthusiastic supporters at each turn.
His rivals and others turned up the pressure to get him to leave, starting with allies of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum who argue that Santorum – who has much better standing in national polls, more state wins and more delegates – is the best candidate for conservatives to rally around against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
If Gingrich remains in the race “it’s only a hindrance to a conservative alternative to Romney,” said Stuart Roy, an adviser to a Santorum-aligned Super PAC, the Red, White and Blue Fund.
Longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie argued that Gingrich should endorse Santorum and at this point Gingrich "can either be a kingmaker or a spoiler" in a statement on a conservative website.
The talk put Gingrich on the defensive during his appearance on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show Wednesday.
The former Georgia congressman credited Santorum with having a “terrific” month. But he highlighted how the former Pennsylvania senator lost -- by a wide margin -- his 2006 election bid to keep his U.S. Senate seat.
“If I thought he was a slam dunk to beat Romney and to beat Obama, I would really consider getting out. I don’t,” Gingrich said. “I think each of the three candidates has strengths and weaknesses and that this is a very healthy vetting process.”
The former U.S. House speaker then pointed to past Democratic and Republican presidential candidates who stuck it out for months on the campaign trail and went on to win their party’s nomination. Bennett, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of education, asked Gingrich if the Republican Party was “bleeding” from the protracted battle for the nomination. Gingrich responded that some people said Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton “were bleeding [in the 2008 primaries] except John McCain didn’t use that four-month period very well. The fact is he lost the presidency.”
Bennett pressed Gingrich: “Can you say: ‘If I can’t break out of the South, I can’t win one state outside the South, or if I continue to trail the numbers of Santorum that I am trailing now, then I am not going to go forever.’”
Gingrich didn’t budge.
“No, because if you asked Rick Santorum that question immediately after Nevada, what would we have said?” Gingrich responded. “He had been running fourth for a month and – including me – people were saying maybe he should drop out. He ignored all those. He now has had a terrific month. I think you have to wait and see how the race goes on.”
The Romney campaign argued that it is already too late to stop him. It distributed a memo from political director Rich Beeson laying out the delegate race and concluding: “As Governor Romney’s opponents attempt to ignore the basic principles of math, the only person’s odds of winning they are increasing are President Obama’s.”
According to the Associated Press, after Super Tuesday Romney leads with 415 convention delegates, followed by Santorum with 176, Gingrich with 105 and Texas Rep. Ron Paul with 47.
The Gingrich campaign circulated math of its own from Atlanta attorney and campaign adviser Randy Evans, who argues that the huge delegate prizes in Texas and California in late May and early June make it worth staying in.
The argument hinges on winning big in Alabama and Mississippi. Spokesman R.C. Hammond said Gingrich territory is a swath from Spartanburg, S.C., to West Texas that is “the heart and soul of the Republican Party.”
Those states “all need to go to Gingrich,” he said.
Hammond said the campaign, perpetually low on funding, plans to purchase advertising in the two states touting Gingrich’s promise to reduce gas prices to $2.50 a gallon. He appeared at a Texaco station in Pell City, Ala., and posed in front of a gas pump to emphasize the point.
The Gingrich argument for remaining in the race hinges both on hopeful math and faith that there is time left for another dramatic turn in a race that has seen plenty of them.
“If we win both Alabama and Mississippi next Tuesday night this is a whole new race,” Gingrich said at a rally in Pell City, “for, I think, the ninth time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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