This is shaping up to be another good week for Mitt Romney and possibly for Rick Santorum – but definitely not for Newt Gingrich, the perpetually angry former Republican House speaker.
On the heels of solid victories in Florida and Nevada, Romney is once again enjoying the role of undisputed frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, and he appears headed for another win on Tuesday in Colorado. Romney won the non-binding Colorado caucus four years ago with 60 percent of the vote and is leading in the latest polls. Santorum, whose campaign has floundered despite a narrow victory over Romney in the Iowa caucuses early last month, is almost certain to do well in today's Minnesota non-binding GOP caucuses, where social conservatives and anti-abortion forces hold sway and are flocking to his campaign.
In a sign that Santorum may be finally surging, Romney’s aides and chief surrogate, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, blasted Santorum for his support of taxpayer-funded earmarks during his years on Capitol Hill, calling him a “champion of earmarks.”
But Gingrich, who has lost two big primaries in a row will have little to boast about this week except for a new strategy he is convinced will catapult him over Romney later this spring and put him in position to capture the GOP nomination this summer. The strategy – crafted by Gingrich and top advisers last week in one of billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s opulent Las Vegas casino palaces – is to systematically attack Romney’s reputation and record. Gingrich is hoping his own poorly financed and disorganized campaign can rally conservatives and Tea Party adherents in southern states, which the Georgian views as his stronghold. He is counting on winning in Georgia and Tennessee on Super Tuesday, March 6, and then in Texas on April 3.
“A vast majority of Republicans across the country are going to want an alternative to a Massachusetts moderate who has, in his career, been pro-abortion, pro-gun-control, pro-tax increases and who ran third from the bottom in job creation in the four years he was governor,” Gingrich told reporters over the weekend at the Palazzo hotel. “So I suspect this debate will continue for a long time. Our commitment is to find a series of victories which, by the end of the Texas primary, will leave us at parity with Governor Romney. And by that point forward, we’ll see if we can’t actually win the nomination.”
For sure, lightning could strike and Romney could once again blow a commanding lead – and be forced to slug it out with Gingrich or another rival at the national convention in Tampa in August. After all, a candidate needs 1,444 delegates to win the nomination, and so far only 143 delegates have been accounted for in five states that have held primaries and caucuses. But almost nobody thinks that Gingrich will be able to raise enough money to be competitive with Romney throughout the country, especially if Adelson and his family turn off the spigot after contributing more than $10 million to Gingrich’s Super PAC, Winning Our Future. Romney forces have outspent Gingrich by nearly five to one, and that disparity is likely to persist.
Instead, Gingrich’s scorched earth plan for spending -- to paint Romney as a pathological liar, a flip-flopper and, worst of all, a Massachusetts “moderate” or “liberal” – will leave Romney in a weakened state heading into the fall campaign against President Obama. At one point during the Gingrich brainstorming sessions in Las Vegas, strategists filled an easel pad with items under the heading, "different ways to call Mitt a liar," the Washington Post reported.
“There is almost no chance this tactic will work, though Newt could easily win some more Southern and Border states if he can stay afloat financially,” said Larry Sabato, a professor of politics and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “One way or the other, Romney will end up being the party nominee. The question is, when he gets the nomination, how beaten up he is from the trail? Clearly, Gingrich isn't through delivering his punches, and the Feb. 22 debate [in Arizona] should prove especially contentious.”
“A lot will depend, of course, on how well [Gingrich] does,” added Ron Reagan, a political commentator and son of the storied Republican president. “If he can’t win the states in the South, then he’s not hanging around until Tampa, I don’t think,” Reagan told MSNBC. “I don’t see any purpose in him doing that, and the Republican establishment will really come after him hammer and tongs for going after their candidate, Mitt Romney. He will have no future among Republicans if he makes life too miserable for Romney.”