TAMPA, Florida -- With Mitt Romney's decisive victory in Florida Tuesday, some Republicans may call for Newt Gingrich to throw in the towel. But the former House speaker, who has been left for dead twice already, has vowed to keep fighting Romney through June or July. And it looks like he's serious.
At his concession speech in Orlando, a big sign proclaimed "46 STATES TO GO."
And his remarks were defiant in both tone and substance.
"It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich, and the Massachusetts moderate," referring to rival Mitt Romney, whose name he did not utter.
He also spoke about what he would do after he became president, despite the fact that he lost to a man who is now seen as the clear front-runner to win the Republican nomination.
But Gingrich is the candidate with nine lives. After his staff abandoned ship in a so-called "Newtiny" last summer when he decided to keep a planned vacation in Greece rather than campaign for the nomination, Gingrich hit the trail with a skeleton staff. And when he lost the first two contests this year in Iowa and New Hampshire, many thought he was just in it to sell books.
His win in South Carolina on January 21 changed the narrative and turned the Florida race into a two man contest between the feisty former House speaker and the smooth talking former Massachusetts governor.
Gingrich initially led polls in Florida after his victory, but after a barrage of attack ads from Romney supporters and weak performance in a pair of Florida debates, Gingrich quickly fell to second place in the Sunshine state.
Now, the question is, can he make yet another comeback?
Whether that is grandstanding or a real strategy, only time will tell, but he is certain to make a fight of it.
Gingrich views himself as the only "true conservative" in the race, and repeatedly calls Romney a "Massachusetts moderate" or "Massachusetts liberal."
As Gingrich likes to point out, Romney has had trouble getting true majorities and the combined totals for Gingrich and Rick Santorum frequently surpass Romney's percentage. But that did not happen in Florida, where Romney took 46 percent, Gingrich 32 percent and Santorum 13 percent, with just about all the votes counted. Ron Paul finished fourth with 7 percent.
While he is not likely to get all of Santorum's voters, Gingrich could increase his support substantially if the former Pennsylvania senator drops out of the race. Santorum insists he is not giving up anytime soon and told his supporters that Gingrich's campaign in Florida. Many of Paul's supporters are backing the Texas lawmaker or no one.
But despite his loss in Florida, Gingrich is still ahead in the national polls, with the RealClearPolitics average of polls showing him up by 2.5 percentage points over Romney.
Romney, of course, plans to change that on a state by state basis, as he did in Iowa and Florida, two states where he plastered the airwaves with advertising reminding voters Gingrich was reprimanded for violating ethics rules of the House of Representatives he was then running.
And he has the money to do it. Romney's campaign said Tuesday he has raised $24.3 million in the final three months of last year and spent $19 million in the quarter. Combined with earlier fundraising, Romney reported having $19.9 million cash on hand at the end of 2011. The Gingrich campaign said he raised about $10 million in the fourth quarter, but likely has much less than that cash on hand right now.
With that kind of cash shortfall, Gingrich needs another blockbuster debate performance to change the momentum of the campaign. Gingrich hit a home run in a CNN debate before his South Carolina win.
Next up is Nevada, which holds its caucuses on Saturday, just four days after the Florida contest. Nevada has the highest foreclosure rate in the country and Gingrich has been damaged by Romney's attack on his work for the mortgage finance giant, Freddie Mac. On top of that there is large Mormon population in Nevada that helped Romney clobber Texas Rep. Ron Paul in 2008 with 51 percent of the vote. Paul garnered just 13 percent of the vote.
After Nevada and its 28 delegates, voters make choices on February 7 in Colorado and Minnesota caucuses. Missouri also holds a non-binding primary, but Gingrich is not on the ballot. Maine votes February 11. Those 180 delegates will be added to the 115 delegates already decided, leaving close to 2000 delegates still to be decided.
After Florida, Romney has 80 delegates of 1144 needed to win the nomination, according to CBS News estimates. The Arizona primary, with its 29 delegates, is February 28.
But the big numbers for delegates are to be decided on March 6, when 10 states hold elections in the contests known collectively as Super Tuesday -- 438 delegates are at stake.
With just three debates on the calendar before Super Tuesday, the road is definitely uphill for Gingrich.