WINDERMERE, Fla. — Newt Gingrich predicted Tuesday the battle for the Republican presidential nomination would continue until "June or July," and then took a dig at rival Mitt Romney, adding "unless Romney drops out sooner."
Gingrich made his remarks at his first stop of the day — a polling place in Windermere, Fla.
The former Speaker trails Romney badly in almost all the final opinion polls in Florida as voters head to the polls for Tuesday's primary. As he walked through a scrum of media to talk to voters in the bright sunshine, he would give only the most general responses to questions about his expectations.
He said that his goal was to "be happy and do well." Asked by The Hill what would constitute doing well, he replied that it would be receiving "the maximum number of votes we can get." He turned away from a further question about a more specific prediction.
Gingrich's vagueness bespeaks a gloom in his camp about the likely outcome here — and a desire to set expectations low. One poll released Monday gave Romney a 20-percentage-point lead in the state, and even the most favorable survey, from Gingrich's perspective, showed him losing to the former Massachusetts governor by five points. Only a week ago, Gingrich held out real hope of winning the primary.
Still, Gingrich has been sounding notes of defiance in the closing days, and that pattern continued Tuesday morning. As he was about to board his campaign bus, Gingrich was asked by one reporter what he would say to those people who felt his campaign was "over."
Gingrich wheeled around and asked whether these were the same people who had said his campaign was over last summer, when many of his staff deserted him, or after the Iowa caucuses, where he trailed in fourth. "They are about as accurate now as they were then," he said.
The former Speaker is scheduled for a multi-stop tour of central Florida on Tuesday. He'll hold his election-night party in Orlando.
Despite his slide in support, Gingrich still has passionate backers. One of the voters who met with him was Dan O'Hara, a silver-haired resident of this prosperous town just outside Orlando.
O'Hara had already voted for Gingrich, he told The Hill, because the former Speaker had been "the backbone" of the modern conservative movement.
Even O'Hara was circumspect when asked how he expected Gingrich to perform in the primary.
"In my heart, I'd like him to win. But the reality is that so much money has been spent against him, it's probably not going to happen."
Still, O'Hara added emphatically, "he should continue."