Gingrich stays loose at dire moment for his bid

TUPELO, Miss. -- Rolling through the heart of Dixie, the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign has taken on an odd, contradictory mood.

Newly arrived Secret Service agents lend an air of permanence and standing to the long-shot bid, which now depends on victories in Tuesday’s Mississippi and Alabama primaries in order to show signs of life in a race that for weeks has focused on two men: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

At the same time, fans and allies of the former U.S. House speaker recognize the dire circumstances. At a sparsely attended Thursday morning rally in Jackson, former state Sen. Lee Yancey introduced Gingrich by saying: “He’s tired and needs your prayers.”

The previous night, Newt and Callista Gingrich danced to a hotel bar cover band until 2 a.m., joined at one point by members of the traveling press corps.

“We had a long day, we did a lot of things,” Gingrich told a Wall Street Journal reporter, off the dance floor. “My first interview is at 6:30 in the morning. ... You’ve got to take a few minutes off.”

Hours earlier he had repeatedly refused to answer questions from journalists about calls for him to get out of the race to allow conservatives to rally as one behind Santorum.

Gingrich has won primaries in just two states -- South Carolina and Georgia, which he represented in Congress for 20 years -- and trails both Romney and Santorum in delegates pledged for the GOP convention, according to an Associated Press tally.

With a chance to perhaps muscle Gingrich out of the race, his chief rivals have targeted Alabama and Mississippi. Santorum and Gingrich both have hit Jackson, Tupelo and Huntsville, Ala. -- where Santorum spoke Thursday at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the exact spot Gingrich appeared Tuesday afternoon.

Santorum, who had previously accused Gingrich of being loony for proposing a moon colony, called for increased spending for NASA. That prompted howls from the Gingrich camp, which said their candidate's moon base plan would not increase the space budget but reform it.

Romney has planned campaign stops Friday in Mississippi and Alabama, but his presence will be felt most, as usual, on the airwaves. This week the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future spent $800,000 in Alabama and $600,000 in Mississippi, mostly on television airtime and direct-mail advertising to attack Gingrich and Santorum.

A pro-Gingrich super PAC also is spending heavily: Winning Our Future has spent $500,000 in Alabama and $360,000 in Mississippi.

A poll taken March 1 by Alabama State University’s Center for Leadership and Public Policy showed Santorum ahead in that state with 22.7 percent of the vote, followed by Romney at 18.7 percent and Gingrich with 13.8 percent. There have been no recent public polls in Mississippi.

Gingrich has vowed to press on. His appearances are meandering at times but a bit more jovial. He trotted out new jokes Thursday, including one about a popular social media tool.

Gingrich tells crowds to get the word out about him on the Internet, but when about 300 supporters in Tupelo how many had Twitter, only a few raised their hands.

“For those of you who don’t know about Twitter, you send out tweets to tweeples,” Gingrich said, then laughed along with the crowd.