ORLANDO, Fla. — The Sunshine State handed Newt Gingrich a defeat Tuesday night, but he insisted that he would plow on with his presidential bid nonetheless.
“We are going to contest every place, and we are going to win,” he told supporters in the ballroom of a hotel here after Mitt Romney had been declared the winner of the Florida primary. He added, “We will be in Tampa as the nominee in August,” referring to this summer’s Republican National Convention.
But the Florida result has made that outcome much less likely. There was to be no last minute surprise, no silver lining, for the former speaker. He came into the state with hopes of a victory that would have made him the frontrunner. He leaves it after taking a bad beating, just as the last polls predicted.
He made a new commitment to releasing a refreshed “personal” version of the 1994 “Contract with America” that helped propel him to the House Speakership, but he spoke about the idea with less passion than might have been expected.
He still had enough energy to mock President Obama and Romney for singing in public recently, saying he was not running to be “entertainer in chief.” And he displayed touches of the grandiosity that his critics mock but his fans love, invoking the memory of Abraham Lincoln in framing the rationale for his candidacy.
Citing Lincoln’s belief in “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” Gingrich insisted that over the next six months “we are going to have people power defeat money power.”
But Gingrich the historian must be aware of the difficulties of fighting a war on several fronts simultaneously.
He faces myriad challenges: Romney’s financial advantages; an upcoming series of inhospitable primaries; and the amorphous — but no less important — perception that he may no longer be a truly serious contender.
He sought to ameliorate the first of those problems before he gave his speech. Shortly after the race had been called for Romney, Gingrich sent out a Tweet proclaiming “46 States to Go! Donate today and help us defeat Obamneycare. 1 million dollar money bomb.”
The tweet included a link for supporters to contribute to Gingrich’s campaign. But the gap that they have to close is much wider than $1 million. The Gingrich campaign revealed earlier Tuesday that it had taken in around $10 million in the last quarter of 2011. During the same period, Romney’s campaign raised $24 million.
Gingrich is adamant that he will continue his campaign. He will attend a rally in Reno, Nev., tomorrow, and further events in Las Vegas are planned. Nevada is the next event on the primary calendar, and Colorado holds caucuses on Feb. 7.
But Romney won the Nevada caucuses in 2008, which makes success there a very steep climb for Gingrich. The same is true of Michigan — the state of which Romney’s late father, George, was a popular governor — which votes on February 28.
The hope for the former Speaker is that he can stay in contention until Super Tuesday, on March 6, when 11 states vote. These include more Gingrich-friendly territory, including Tennessee and his home state of Georgia.
Kurt Kelly, a former state representative who chaired Gingrich's Faith Leaders Coalition in Florida, ascribed Tuesday’s result to the Romney campaign's spending in general, and to its intensive negative ad campaign in particular. He acknowledged that Gingrich would have a difficult time in February.
"He's going to have a slow month but when he gets back into the South that will change," Kelly told The Hill.
The sheer scale of Romney’s victory in Florida also weakens one of Gingrich’s more powerful arguments.
The former Speaker has repeated at almost every campaign stop in recent days that total support for conservatives in the race outweighed support for Romney. His thesis is that a candidate capable of uniting conservatives — by which he means himself — could yet thwart the former Massachusetts governor.
But, Tuesday evening, Romney seemed set to capture well over 45 percent of the votes cast. If the combined vote for Gingrich and Rick Santorum turns out to be greater, it will be barely so.
That didn’t stop Gingrich from making the case once again during his speech, however.
“It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader Newt Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate,” he said. “The voters of Florida really made that clear.”
His critics would contend that Florida made a lot of other things clear, too — and none of them helps Gingrich.