Newt Gingrich says it's over if he does not win South Carolina

Republican presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is questioned by the media after speaking to supporters gathered at a rally for home ownership in front of the State Capitol building January 12, 2012 in Columbia, South Carolina. Voters in South Carolina will head to the polls on January 21st. to vote in the primary election to pick their choice for U.S. presidential candidate. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Newt Gingrich
Republican presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reversed himself again, saying Tuesday that the Republican presidential primary would be over if he did not win in South Carolina, where voters head to the polls Saturday.

"If I don't win the primary Saturday, we will probably nominate a moderate," Gingrich said Tuesday, referring to front-runner Mitt Romney, according to the Huffington Post, "And the odds are fairly high he will lose to (President) Obama."

Gingrich at first blush appeared to be backtracking from comments made hours earlier on the CBS This Morning television program. Gingrich told CBS that there would be a serious race if Romney received just a third of the vote.

"If he's down at 29 or 30 [percent], then I think we're still in a serious race. If he gets up to 40 or 45, then, you know, you have to be realistic about it. I don't see any evidence yet of him doing that well," Gingrich said, raising expectations for Romney.

The former Massachusetts governor is leading in the polls in South Carolina but is not expected to come close to the 45 percent Gingrich mentioned.

Gingrich had earlier in January told CBS' Scott Pelley that he needs to win South Carolina to stay in the race.

But Gingrich's latest comment appears to be aimed at former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The three are fighting for votes from the conservative wing of the party that is skeptical of Romney. As longs as that bloc is splintered, Romney benefits.

So Gingrich is pressuring Santorum and Perry to drop out after South Carolina because Gingrich sees himself as the only one who can consolidate their support and continue in the race.

South Carolina is already seen as Perry's last chance to revive his struggling campaign. But Santorum may not give up so easily. He has pledged to stay in the race and an announcement Friday from the Iowa Republican party could give him a boost.

Romney won the Iowa caucuses January 3 by eight votes, but those tallies were based on phone calls. State party officials have been counting the written votes for weeks to certify the caucuses and they are expected to provide a final vote count Friday, when Santorum could easily be declared the official winner of the non-binding process.

It remains an open question what impact, if any, a revised outcome would have on the former Pennsylvania senator's campaign. Santorum got a huge boost in fundraising immediately after his strong finish in Iowa.

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    CBSNews.com Deputy Politics Editor Corbett B. Daly is based in Washington. He has worked at Reuters, Thomson Financial News and CBS MarketWatch.

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