Gingrich vows to stay in race as Alabama governor endorses Santorum; Update: Not an endorsement?

posted at 12:45 pm on March 13, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Tonight, four states hold contests to determine delegate allocations for the Republican presidential nomination, but the two that will be most closely watched tonight will be the primaries in Alabama and Mississippi.  Hawaii and American Samoa hold caucuses that won’t carry the strategic significance of the two Deep South contests.  Or perhaps even these won’t have that much strategic significance, as Newt Gingrich insists that his campaign will continue regardless of tonight’s results:

 No matter what happens in Tuesday’s Mississippi and Alabama primaries, Newt Gingrich says he will remain in the race, and he believes the combination of delegates being amassed by him, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul will keep Mitt Romney from hitting the magic number of 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination.

Speaking on a local Alabama radio show on Tuesday morning, the former House speaker said there is an advantage of using a “tag-team” approach to defeating Romney, the current front-runner.

“With Rick and me together, we are really slowing him down, with some help frankly from Ron Paul,” Gingrich told the radio hosts. “The country is sort of saying, a majority is saying, `Not Romney.’ The biggest bloc is saying Romney, but it’s not a big enough bloc to be a majority. We now are beginning to think he will literally not be able to get the delegates to get the nomination.”

Gingrich really needs wins at this point and not just decent delegate allocations.  Depending on whether one counts only the bound delegates from primaries or the presumed allocations from caucuses, Gingrich is either second or third in total delegates so far, but either way he’s way behind Romney.  It’s one thing to say that Romney’s not winning a majority — in a four-way race, that’s to be expected — but another entirely to claim that winning only two contests out of 30 (by the end of the night) makes one a credible contender against two others with more outright wins.  Even if Romney doesn’t get to a majority, what would Gingrich’s argument be for being the more electable candidate if he couldn’t carry anywhere near the number of states that the frontrunner(s) won?

At least Gingrich is in fighting distance of the lead in both Alabama and Mississippi, but in Alabama, Rick Santorum picked up an important endorsement:

Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama endorsed Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Tuesday, the same day as voters head to the polls in the state’s primary.

Bentley’s support was announced on the nationally syndicated radio program, “The Rick and Bubba Show,” by Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt. …

The nod marks a big get for the former Pennsylvania senator, who falls slightly behind rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in the state, according to recent polls.

Santorum had seemed to be dropping off the pace a bit in Alabama, which helped Gingrich.  An endorsement might provide Santorum with some momentum for late deciders, although gubernatorial endorsements haven’t always paid off — as Mitt Romney found out in South Carolina, for instance.  As for Romney, Politico’s Jonathan Martin thinks a win tonight will seal the deal, or that at least a good performance will keep both Gingrich and Santorum in the race:

In a topsy-turvy GOP primary, where the unexpected has been the norm, such a final plot twist may be altogether fitting: The Mormon Yankee who thinks cheese grits are a revelation effectively seals the nomination in Alabama and Mississippi.

Mitt Romney has a shot to win both states — polls show him leading or effectively tied in each. But even if the former Massachusetts governor doesn’t take them outright, the apparent resurgence of Newt Gingrich in the Deep South has once again muddled the primary-within-a-primary so that Rick Santorum is going to be denied his wish to get a clean shot at the front-runner. …

“I think it’s over if he wins here,” said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant of Romney after a Monday rally with comedian Jeff Foxworthy at a trucking company outside Jackson. “At that point how do you go and say, ‘I’m the most conservative candidate’ if you can’t win the most conservative state in the country?”

Bryant is a Romney backer, but such sentiment isn’t difficult to pick up across the two deep red states. If one of the two conservative alternatives can’t decisively defeat the establishment favorite in Mississippi and Alabama, which have veered even more sharply to the right in the Obama era, it’s difficult to imagine either of them constructing an electoral firewall that can halt Romney’s march to Tampa.

Will there be a game changer tonight?  Frankly, I doubt it, and not just because none of the candidates have shown any inclination to depart the race so far.  As I explain in my column for The Week, we’re exiting a six-week period of intense simultaneous contests, and the primary schedule from this point forward slows down to a point where Romney’s organizational advantages lessen:

However, to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, tonight may be the end of the beginning, if not the beginning of the end. The primary schedule slows down considerably after tonight’s contests. After a serial start to the caucuses and primaries in January, most of the last six weeks have kept candidates busy campaigning in multiple states. That reached its apex in last week’s Super Tuesday battles in 10 states. Now, the four states today provide a last echo of the opening phase of the nomination fight. By the time the polls and caucuses close tonight, we will have completed 30 primaries and caucuses.

From this point forward, the contests come mostly one at a time — and with some significant down time between them. Missouri, Puerto Rico, and Illinois will take place over the next week, followed on the March 24 by Louisiana’s primary — but these all come singly rather than get lumped into one day. After Louisiana, Republicans have 10 days off before they spoil my birthday on April 3 with three primaries — and then another three weeks go by before five states hold primaries on April 24.

The sudden deceleration of the nomination process has some consequences for the race besides giving pundits more time to do math and analyze polls. The advantages of money and organization are most critical when candidates have to campaign simultaneously in several states, as has been the rule for most of the last six weeks. Now that the candidates have more time between contests, the money advantage matters less, and the three candidates not named Mitt Romney have less pressure on them to concede and withdraw.

Like last week’s Super Tuesday, I don’t expect tonight’s contests to settle anything — which is what I meant when I wrote that there was no “winner” from the night.  The only possibility for a change in the race might be if Gingrich fails to win either Alabama or Mississippi tonight and if Romney wins one of the two.  At that point, Gingrich won’t have much credibility left as a candidate even in a brokered convention, and a Romney win would give him added credibility as a national candidate.  If Gingrich wins both, or he splits them with Santorum, the race will go on as before, and it will be a long haul to June before this gets settled to the satisfaction of either of them.

Update: When is an endorsement not an endorsement?  When it’s merely a vote:

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley admitted Tuesday that he voted for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the state’s primary, but argued that shouldn’t be read as an endorsement of Santorum’s presidential campaign.

“I view Rick Santorum as the most conservative candidate in the Republican presidential primary,” Bentley wrote on Facebook after word leaked out on the radio in Alabama that he voted for Santorum.

On Tuesday morning, Santorum’s campaign blasted out a press release reporting that Alabama Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt relayed the news of who Bentley voted for on the “Rick and Bubba Show.”

Shortly after that, Bentley, who for weeks has said he wouldn’t endorse, took to his Facebook page to argue that the disclosure of his vote doesn’t mean he has made an endorsement.

Then maybe he should have kept his choice to himself, as well as his opinion of Rick Santorum.  It’s a silly distinction.  What’s the point of declaring how you voted if it’s not to in some way endorse that candidate or position?


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Comment pages: 1 2

Comment pages: 1 2