LANCASTER, Pa. — As Republican Party leaders increasingly coalesce behind Mitt Romney as their presumed nominee for President this year, a defiant Newt Gingrich fights on and insists he will continue his own campaign until the GOP national convention in Tampa this summer.
Following a fighting speech and hero’s welcome at the Lancaster County Republican Party dinner Tuesday night — in which he followed Romney to the speaker’s podium — the former House speaker spelled out to Human Events just why he remains an active candidate.
“I owe it to the conservative movement to stay in the race,” Gingrich told us, emphasizing that it was important that Romney face competition “from a conservative in the Reagan mold.” Before we spoke, top aides to Gingrich said that he felt strongly that by competing with Romney up to the convention, he would reduce the chances that Romney would back away from a conservative campaign or party platform.
Gingrich noted that he is fielding a full slate of delegates in the Pennsylvania primary April 24 and that his national campaign chairman (former Rep. Bob Walker) is running for national convention delegate from Lancaster County. And, he added, “we’re competing in primaries in Delaware the same day, in West Virginia and North Carolina in May. And we’ll compete in Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas later that month.”
Has Gingrich spoken to Rick Santorum, who has suspended his own campaign — and who was conspicuous by his last-minute cancellation from the dinner here at the Lancaster Convention Center?
“We spoke on Friday at the NRA [National Rifle Association] convention last Friday,” Gingrich told us, “and we’ve swapped a few [email] messages. Look, he’s got to deal with his [campaign] debt and he’s got his family situation [the illness of 3-year-old daughter Bella that Santorum cited as a reason for exiting the race].”
As to whether Santorum might possibly endorse former rival Gingrich, the former speaker said: “I have no idea. But we’ll keep talking.”
There were strong signs throughout the evening that while the Harrisburg-born Gingrich may have lost the nomination race, he had still won the hearts of the party. Whether his remarks were denunciations of “Obama’s left-wing socialist agenda” and his own vow as President “never to bow to a Saudi king,” Gingrich was cheered strongly. Hale Womble, second-grader at St. Leo the Great school and son of delegate candidate Ann Womble, told us after Gingrich’s remarks: “I was counting. Mr. Romney was applauded four times, but Mr. Gingrich was applauded 12 different times.”