Romney: Newt is in front, but this thing could go until June

I wouldn’t exactly call it a sense of desperation, but it certainly looks like Mitt Romney is playing the game of lowering expectations going into the early and primary caucus states. Found at National Review, the full coverage of the comments is at Politico. For most of this year, Mitt has been trying to stay above the fray in terms of the rest of the field, but now he’s admitting that Newt is the frontrunner, but he also hints that he doesn’t plan on going away any time soon.

Mitt Romney, who just a month ago had hoped to seal the GOP presidential nomination with Florida’s primary on Jan. 31, tells POLITICO that he now foresees an epic fight with Newt Gingrich that could last through the California primary on June 5.

Asked if the former House speaker is the front-runner, Romney replied bluntly: “He is right now.”

Romney made it clear that he would rather lose than make incendiary charges about Gingrich that could help President Barack Obama in the general election. And the former Massachusetts governor said the nomination “is not going to be decided in just a couple of contests” and “could go for months and months.”

“You see how dramatically the numbers have moved and how quickly they have over the last year?” he replied Monday during a video interview at a grubby French-Canadian diner, Chez Vachon, a storied campaign stop that has hosted George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

“It’s a very fluid electorate. I think I’ll get the nomination. I can’t predict when. … I’ve got — what? — five or six more months to go to make that a reality.”

It could be easy to write this off as bluster, but Romney has something to back up his statements. More specifically, about 17 million somethings. Unlike some of the other candidates who may be so starved for cash that a poor showing could see them heading out the door after New Hampshire, Mitt has the money, the organization and – perhaps most importantly – the time to stick around for the later, larger population states. Newt, on the other hand, is very experienced in building a political organization, but he’s still starting nearly from scratch in a lot of these states.

That’s not to say that Newt can’t just ride a grassroots wave and rely on earned media until he gets local organizations in place, but Romney did have a head start. If they don’t do well in the first few primaries, you may see people like Bachmann, Santorum and Huntsman dropping out, but Mitt could hang around for some time to come. And I don’t think anyone’s crystal ball is good enough to say what’s going to happen in April and May at this point.