US politics from outside the beltway

RSS

Can Newt make a comeback?

He's already done it twice, but can Gingrich come back a third time?

Newt Gingrich may be down, but he's not out yet. Although he trailed in Nevada by 25 per cent of the vote -- making it his second consecutive big loss -- don't write the moral conservative off yet.

Gingrich is hanging on for Super Tuesday on 6 March where 10 states vote at once and almost a fifth of all delegates are decided. The Bible belt is better territory for the Republican candidate and many conservative Southern states like Georgia and Alabama are likely to vote in his favour; the former being his onetime home state with 76 delegates on offer. There are 437 delegates up for grabs in total on Super Tuesday -- a marked contrast to Nevada's 28 and Florida's 50.

In order to hold on until Super Tuesday, Gingrich needs to work on attacking Mitt Romney, capitalising on the reservations many Southern Republicans have about him and his centrist record as governor of Massachusetts. In the Florida primary Newt's strongest region was the Florida Panhandle, which can be seen as a proxy for the Deep South. Moreover, he was also more popular with poorer voters, born-again Christians and evangelical voters -- important factors to remember when predicting how the Bible belt of America will vote. At a press conference in Nevada, Gingrich himself predicted that the conservative Southern states would never vote for a pro-gun control, pro-abortion Massachusetts moderate.

While Gingrich, who was outspent by Romney 5:1 in Florida, may have complained about Ron Paul and Rick Santorum remaining in the race and making it more difficult for him to consolidate the anti-Mitt vote, he may be thanking them in the run up to Super Tuesday. It is possible that both Santorum and Paul could win in caucus states that Romney has more sway in than Gingrich. Santorum is in good stead in Missouri and Minnesota, while Paul holds weight in Colorado.

Wins from Paul or Santorum would undoubtedly weaken Romney's position, thus enabling Newt to swoop in once again and paint himself as the only man who can boot Obama from the White House and ensure that Romney cannot paint his clinching of the Republican nomination as inevitable.

Importantly, Romney's victory in Nevada isn't the storming success he has made it out to be. Romney captured Nevada, which has a large proportion of Mormons, with around 43 per cent of the vote; much lower than the 51 per cent he received in his 2008 campaign. This may be due to his recent comments about not being concerned with the very poor -- a statement that has since been taken wildly out of context but one that Newt can surely use to sully his opponent.

There's no doubt that Newt will face an uphill battle up until Super Tuesday, particularly due to the fact that there are no debates scheduled until 22 February. The former Speaker has shone in the debates, using them as an opportunity to incite grassroots support and, importantly, attack frontrunner Mitt Romney. Many undecided voters warmed to Newt in the debates, especially his infamous rage at CNN's John King in South Carolina, seeing his aggression as the quality that would enable him to triumph over President Obama.

The more Newt can paint Romney as one of "them" as opposed to one of "us" due to his Mormonism and extraordinary wealth, the more chance he has of ensuring that the Republican nomination continues to be a race rather than a coronation. His means of doing this is through debate and it is not unlikely that he will request another with Romney before 22 February. The former House Speaker knows that he cannot lie low for a month and expect miracle success, and with the recent cartoonish blow of Donald Trump endorsing Romney, Gingrich needs to ensure that he remains in primetime news.

Similarly, in the run up to Super Tuesday Newt should outline more concrete policies on tax and national debt, rather than merely saying his conservative policies are strong and courageous as opposed to moderate Mitt's timid proposals. If he can do this he has a good chance of re-engaging the conservative base and proving himself as the only alternative to Romney and his cautious policies, which are unpopular with the Tea Party. Newt needs to talk less about the moon and develop a laser-focussed message targeted at the political and social right.

The former Speaker has vowed not to surrender until the Tampa convention and until then he must keep doing what he does best: fighting. There's no question that his comeback will be hard, but it's not impossible.

Don't count the underdog out just yet.