ORLANDO, Fla. — If there was any common denominator among the talk at Newt Gingrich’s primary night headquarters, it was that, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s victory, the Gingrich team was looking ahead to future contests in which they felt their man could beat the former Massachusetts governor.
Although the candidate himself spoke confidently about winning on Tuesday at his final rally in Orlando the night before, Newt Gingrich’s top lieutenants in the Sunshine State and nationwide essentially conceded to HUMAN EVENTS on Monday the day before that Mitt Romney would probably win on Tuesday. He did, with early projections showing the former Massachusetts governor defeating Gingrich by a margin of 48 to 36 percent, with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul (who had pretty much written off Florida trailing far behind).
Both former State Attorney General and Gingrich state chairman Bill McCollum and national campaign chairman (and former Pennsylvania Rep.) Bob Walker made it clear to me that their man was in the race all the way to the national convention in Tampa (Fla.) this summer.
“Right now, the count has Romney with 33 delegates and the speaker with 26,” said McCollum, pointing out that Florida’s winner-take-all primary would put 50 more delegates in Romney’s column and boost him to 83 delegates.
“And that is with more than forty states yet to begin their delegate selection and more than 1,100 delegates to be picked,” he added. Walker pointed out to us that a Romney advantage would be wiped out by just the delegates from Gingrich’s home state of Georgia, one of several states holding a winner-take-all primary on “Super Tuesday.”
Both McCollum and Walker emphasized that only 5 per cent of the national convention delegates had been selected in primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida and that the Iowa caucuses were only the beginning of a much-longer process for delegate selection.
“Team Gingrich” again recycled the hope that their candidate had discussed with HUMAN EVENTS days before the South Carolina: namely, that other conservatives such as Rick Perry and Rick Santorum would withdraw from the race and let him go one-on-one with Romney. Perry, of course, has since left the race and endorsed Gingrich, but Santorum and his backers bristle at any suggestion of an exodus and deferral to the Georgian.
“Romney has never won 50 per cent of the vote anywhere,” said Walker. When we asked on Monday whether he would actually ask his friend and fellow Pennsylvanian Santorum to leave the race, he replied that “Rick had hoped he would pick up the pieces when Gingrich imploded. Well, obviously that hasn’t happened and it won’t.” (On the Monday before the balloting in Florida, Santorum spoke to a large crowd in St. Charles, Missouri; Gingrich failed to make the Feb. 7 primary ballot in the Show Me State).
All told, the results in Florida Jan. 31 were not unexpected by Newt Gingrich and his team. What happens next is uncertain.