Confident Newt Gingrich headed into the dual Deep South primaries on Tuesday with his best chance of resuscitating his bid for the Republican presidential nomination and upsetting establishment favorite Mitt Romney.
The former House speaker went into the contests with the latest poll giving him a narrow lead over Romney in Mississippi and just one percentage point behind him in neighboring Alabama as the two states seemed to be swinging for the son-of-the-south and away from his conservative rival Rick Santorum.
A clear win for Romney in the two states — generally considered the most conservative in the country — would put the momentum so squarely on his side that most pundits believe he would be hard to catch in the race for delegates to the party national convention in August.
But Gingrich was determined that was not going to happen as he campaigned hard in the hours running up to the opening of the polls.
He seemed to change tack on polling day, suggesting that the four-way race could be vital in defeating Romney’s bid for the nomination. Previously he has urged Santorum to drop out to allow him a clear shot at the former Massachusetts governor.
“There's a certain advantage, right now, in having both of us tag-team Romney because neither one of us by ourselves can raise the money to match Romney," Gingrich said on the Rick and Bubba radio show in Alabama on Tuesday morning.
"With Rick and me together, we are really slowing him down, with some help, frankly, from Ron Paul,” he added, reminding his listeners in the Heart of Dixie, “They don’t want to have a Massachusetts moderate when they can have a Georgia conservative.
"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."
Romney currently has an estimated 454 delegates pledged to him — just under 40 percent of the amount he needs to clinch the nomination. Santorum has 217, Gingrich has 107, and Texas Rep. Paul trails with 47.
The last poll before the two states vote was taken by Public Policy Polling. Gingrich led Romney by 33 points to 31 in Mississippi with Santorum four points back with 27.
Romney led Gingrich by 31 percent to 30 in Alabama with Santorum a point back with 29. Paul was trailing in single figures in both contests.
On Monday, Gingrich told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren he believes he has a good chance of taking both Mississippi and Alabama, which shares a 300-mile border with Georgia, the state he represented in the House for two decades.
He estimated that Romney will end up with only around one-third of the delegates and likened the entire GOP race to a football game, with the March 24 Louisiana primary marking half time.
“The first half was actually better territory for Romney than the second half. And as we go through the second half it gets harder and harder for him to finally get to a majority," he said.
But the danger for both Gingrich and Santorum is if they split the vote in the Yellowhammer and Magnolia States — where more than 40 percent of likely Republican voters describe themselves as “very conservative.”
That could allow the more moderate Romney to squeak ahead of both and claim victory, which could give him a major boost even if it does not translate into a decisive delegate win, as the combined 90 delegates are allocated proportionately.
"I’ve stayed in this race for two reasons," Gingrich told the Alabama Republican Presidential Forum in Birmingham last week. "I do not believe the two other candidates can beat President Obama.
"We have to win in a principled way with a big enough agenda and enough momentum to change Washington decisively."
Tuesday’s contests also includes caucuses in Hawaii, with 20 delegates up for grabs, and in American Samoa, which has nine. Romney was expected to do well in both.
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