ORLANDO, Fla. — As jumps in the polls and predictions of nomination to oppose Barack Obama begin to come in for Mitt Romney immediately after Florida’s results Tuesday, Newt Gingrich’s campaign team began to talk about where to go and what to do next.
Both national campaign chairman Bob Walker and Florida state chairman Bill McCollum seemed to prepare this reporter and his colleagues for a defeat in the Sunshine State. Even before the network projections of a 47 to 32 percent win for Romney over Gingrich, they were discussing what their candidate would do next.
Just where can Gingrich go to make good on his promise to go “all the way to Tampa?”
These are the key dates and places to watch for an answer:
Feb. 4 — Nevada and Maine. Both states are holding caucuses to select convention delegates. Gingrich himself told HUMAN EVENTS he would compete in both, although he admitted that Nevada “would be tricky for us because of the Mormon influence.” Santorum has opened an office in Nevada and Paul has a strong libertarian base there, but most observers of the Silver State concede its delegates to Romney (who won handily there in ’08). Maine, where Paul spent much of the weekend, is unclear.
Feb. 7 — Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri. Already Gingrich is working on Minnesota and his national campaign operatives, in fact, held a conference call Monday regarding the Gopher State caucuses. Already, crack operatives David Fitzsimons and Jen DeJournett have been hired by the Gingrich team to organize for the Minnesota caucuses, where party leaders led by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty are lining up for Romney. The same situation is true in Colorado, where elected and party officials are beginning to endorse Romney and outsiders are scrambling to launch a Gingrich movement. Missouri, as Gingrich pointed out to us, is holding a “beauty contest” primary Feb. 7 that carries no weight at all in the choice of delegates. Rather, delegates will begun to be selected at local caucuses beginning Feb. 17 and culminating in a state convention June 1st—one, interestingly, that will be held in Springfield, site of the same convention in which Ronald Reagan’s backers shut out those of Gerald Ford in the election of delegates that is still remembered as the “Missouri massacre.”
Feb. 28 — Arizona and Michigan. Two highly critical states that may well determine whether Gingrich makes it to “Super Tuesday” in March. While Romney is considered the favorite because of his tough position on illegal immigration (which was underscored in Florida) and the state’s Mormon community, Gingrich is beginning to build a team under crack operative Lisa James, who ran George W. Bush’s campaigns in the Grand Canyon State. Michigan, where Romney was born and grew up, could be a barn-burner of a race because it has no party registration and anyone can vote in the Republican primary. A just-completed Detroit Free Press poll showed Romney leading Gingrich by only 31 to 26 per cent among likely primary voters.
March 3 — Washington State. Although most state party officials and office-holders trend toward Romney, there is a strong blend of conservative activists and tea partiers within the GOP party hierarchy. The best evidence of this was the election last year of popular conservative radio talk show host Kirby Wilbur as state party chairman. Gingrich cannot be counted out here, nor can Ron Paul.
March 6-“Super Tuesday” — Assuming Gingrich gets through the earlier hurdles, this is the “make or break” date for his candidacy. Three states will hold caucuses — Alaska, Idaho, and North Dakota. Seven will hold primaries — Georgia and Massachusetts (homes to each front-runner), Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. Gingrich freely admits he “screwed up” in failing to get on the Virginia primary ballot and his Tennessee lieutenants did not file complete slates in the Volunteer State.
Clearly, Newt Gingrich has his work cut out for him. The road from primary headquarters in Orlando Jan. 31 to the Republican National Convention in Tampa this summer can be hiked — but few will argue that journey ahead for Newt Gingrich is rocky and uncertain.