ALEXANDRIA, La. -- Once again, Newt Gingrich was not present in a state where Republicans went to the polls. This time, as voters in Illinois were handing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney a solid victory, the former House speaker was nearly 500 miles away in Louisiana, where he ended his public schedule late in the afternoon and chose to do an interview with Fox News's Sean Hannity rather than hold an election-night rally.
Calls for Gingrich to end his campaign are bound to increase after his last-place showing in Illinois, where he was able to muster only 8 percent of the vote. He made his usual pledge on the Hannity show to stay in the race, but his fundraising is drying up, his schedule is lightening, and Republican National Committee rules raise questions about what he could accomplish by pressing on to the August convention in Tampa.
Gingrich told Hannity he had chosen to focus on the South, where he believes he had a better chance of winning. His only victories in 33 contests to date have been in South Carolina and his home state of Georgia. But his Southern strategy didn't work in Alabama and Mississippi, which he lost earlier this month after saying he had to win one or both to be credible. And as he stumped across the northern part of the Bayou State on Tuesday, Gingrich did not predict a victory in the upcoming weekend primary. Instead, he talked up the potential for collecting convention delegates.
"We have a real chance to pick up delegates here," he told a crowd at a morning stop at a café in Shreveport. By the afternoon, he had stepped up the rhetoric just a bit for an audience at a hotel in Monroe, telling them he thought he had a good chance to "win a lot of delegates here."
Gingrich is scheduled to campaign across Louisiana all week after spending a long weekend at home in the Washington area, where he was spotted with his wife, Callista, enjoying a stroll through the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin and dining at the French restaurant La Fourchette.
His schedule is noticeably lighter than it has been in recent weeks, with no more than three events a day - a shift for a campaign that had been scheduling multiple four- and five-event days over the past month. That may be because his campaign is in debt. February fundraising reports showed that Newt 2012 owes more money than it has on hand.
That the campaign has made it this far while only winning two primaries is largely due to the backing of the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, and, in particular, its largest donors - Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who have collectively given $15 million to the group. Their $5 million donation in February was almost twice as much as the Gingrich campaign itself took in for the entire month.
But the super PAC money cannot be tied in any way to the campaign, and so it cannot be used to pay for day-to-day expenses such as travel, staff salaries, or the staging and set-up at events. For this, the campaign must rely on its own donor base - a group that is now being bombarded almost daily with requests for donations of as little as $2.50 (or one "Newt gallon," a reference to the candidate's promise to reduce the price of gas).
For now, no one in the Gingrich camp is conceding that they might not make it to the convention. Instead, their focus is on those states where they feel they have the best chance of doing well and adding to their delegate count.
"There are a number of places where we'll be competitive," said Bob Walker, a senior adviser and longtime friend of the former speaker. He listed Delaware, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and Maryland as examples of such states. The campaign has also talked of sending staffers to Wisconsin and Indiana to begin prepping for a ground game in two of the final primaries in the upper Midwest.
Walker insists that the campaign is not slowing down, but instead looking ahead to the biggest delegate prizes that come near the end of the primary calendar. "We've made it very clear that in the fourth quarter of the campaign, there are large delegations in California and Texas, and they are right at the end of the primary season," Walker said. "We will have some momentum with us at that point."
If Gingrich were to stay in the race until the convention, RNC rules would make it hard for him to get on the ballot. He'd have to "demonstrate the support of a plurality of delegates from each of five or more states" before his name could be put in nomination.
With Romney now pulling well ahead in the delegate count, and with the approach of several winner-take-all states that favor Romney, the odds of a late flurry of successes that could shift momentum away from Romney and toward Gingrich are dim. Even Gingrich was forced to acknowledge that the former Massachusetts governor's win in Illinois widened the gap between him and his competitors rather substantially.
"Governor Romney had a pretty good day today," Gingrich told Hannity on Tuesday night. Then he added, of the man who has 563 delegates to his 135, "I think he took a step towards clearly proving he was the front-runner."
Naureen Khan contributed