Newt Gingrich's tough road ahead

Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a Florida Republican presidential primary night rally, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012, in Orlando, Fla
AP Photo/Matt Rourke
Newt Gingrich
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

After losing badly to Mitt Romney in Florida, the road ahead does not get any easier for Newt Gingrich.

The month of February features seven primaries and caucuses in states scattered across the country: A close look at each contest reveals that they set up far better for Romney, who won 5 out of 7 of them during the 2008 Republican primary campaign. Gingrich has a realistic chance to emerge victorious in only two or three of them, likely placing him in a deep hole before the race returns to more favorable terrain for him on Super Tuesday during the first week in March.


On February 4, Nevada holds their Republican caucuses. In 2008, Romney easily won the caucuses, attracting 51 percent support compared to 14 percent for Ron Paul and 13 percent for John McCain. One reason for his success there is his popularity among two of the state's key constituencies. Approximately seven percent of Nevada's residents are Mormon, but they comprised 26 percent of attendees at the 2008 Republican caucuses. They awarded a whopping 95 percent of their support to Romney. Nevada also has a sizable Latino population, a constituency with whom Romney performed very well in 2008, defeating McCain among Latinos by a nearly two-to-one margin.

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Florida exit poll
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Full state-by-state GOP primary results


Republican caucuses in Maine will be conducted from February 4 through February 11 at various locations around the state. The Pine Tree State is fertile ground for Romney. Romney easily won the caucuses here in 2008, receiving 51 percent of the vote compared to 21 percent for McCain and 18 percent for Paul. Not only is Romney well known here from his years as governor in the neighboring state of Massachusetts, but he has also been aggressively courting support in Maine for months. He has already received high-profile endorsements from Maine Republican leaders such as State Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, Attorney General William Schneider, and former U.S. Representative David Emery.


Minnesota holds its Republican caucuses on February 7 and is one of three states with contests that day. Romney easily won the state in 2008, topping McCain 41 percent to 22 percent. Romney is further helped by the caucus rules, which allow registered Republicans as well as independents to participate. In the four contests to date, Romney has outperformed Gingrich among independents in three of them. Romney only lost independents to Gingrich in South Carolina, but even then it was by a margin three times smaller than he did among registered Republicans. However, polling in mid-January around the time of the South Carolina primary showed Gingrich with a double-digit lead over Romney in Minnesota, suggesting his message may resonate with voters there.

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Colorado also conducts Republican caucuses on February 7. Despite Romney defeating McCain 60 percent to 19 percent in 2008, Colorado may offer the best opportunity for Gingrich to score a victory in February. The state's caucuses are closed to anyone but registered Republicans, eliminating independent voters who have been far more attracted to Romney than Gingrich in the contests to date. Moreover, Colorado has a sizable number of evangelical voters, a group with whom Gingrich has thrived in the last two contests, defeating Romney among them 56 to 31 percent in South Carolina and 42 percent to 35 percent in Florida.


Missouri technically has the first primary next month, on February 7. However, the primary will not confer any delegates, in order to prevent the Republican National Committee (RNC) from penalizing the state's Republican party for conducting their primary too early in the process. Instead, caucuses held in the state on March 17 will award delegates to the remaining candidates. Gingrich scoffed at this arrangement, calling it nothing more than a "beauty contest." He failed to file the necessary paperwork and pay the nominal $1,000 and as a result will not appear on the primary ballot. Gingrich may come to regret this decision because the Missouri primary will likely still receive considerable media attention because of the state's renowned battleground status in presidential elections.

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The next Republican contest does not occur until the end of the month, when Arizona and Michigan hold primaries on February 28. Arizona offers another good opportunity for Gingrich to succeed. The Arizona primary is closed to registered Republicans. Moreover, it has sizable populations of evangelicals (who comprised 33 percent of the Arizona Republican primary electorate in 2008) and military personnel (who comprised 28 percent of the electorate in 2008), both of whom have favored Gingrich over Romney in the first four contests. On the other hand, Arizona has large numbers of Mormons (who comprised 11 percent of the electorate in 2008) and senior citizens (who comprised 31 percent of the electorate in 2008), two groups with whom Romney performs well. The winner could once again depend who delivers the best debate performance. The next forum takes place on February 22 when CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona sponsor a debate between the remaining candidates at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona.


Michigan also holds its Republican primary on February 28, but Gingrich has little chance of taking the state. Romney was born and raised in Michigan and his father was a popular governor in the state from 1963 to 1969. These roots have served him well. In 2008, Michigan was one of only three primary states that Romney won in the campaign (the remaining 8 wins came in states holding caucuses), topping McCain 39 percent to 30 percent. This year the polls have him out front. EPIC-MRA, a Michigan-based polling company that does surveys for the Detroit Free Press, showed Romney up 31 percent to 26 percent over Gingrich in a poll conducted from January 21 through January 25, the days immediately after Gingrich's resounding victory in South Carolina and before his defeat in Florida.

Below, CBS News political director John Dickerson discusses what Romney's big win means for the future of Gingrich's campaign:

  • Samuel Best

    Samuel J. Best is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the former director of the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut. He has written numerous books and articles about public opinion and electoral behavior, including Exit Polls: Surveying the American Electorate, 1972-2008, scheduled to be published by CQ Press in 2012. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the State University New York at Stony Brook.