LAS VEGAS — Defeated in the Nevada caucuses, Newt Gingrich brushed aside all talk of quitting the Republican presidential race and said he hopes a series of victories will enable him to catch up with front-runner Mitt Romney by the Texas primary in early April.
At a news conference in Las Vegas after results showed him and Ron Paul jockeying for second place, the former House speaker attacked Romney and President Barack Obama by turns. He said he and aides have spent much of the past four days retooling a campaign that twice has made him a leader in the polls, yet left him with only one victory in five states.
He described Romney as a Massachusetts moderate, and cast himself as a conservative, and said the differences between the two will become “wider and wider and clearer and clearer” over the next few weeks.
He needs to forge a breakthrough as the race turns to a string of states friendly to Romney, including Colorado and Minnesota on Tuesday and Michigan, where Romney grew up, on Feb. 28.
Nevada was the second straight loss for Gingrich after his triumphant South Carolina upset.
And it was beset by glitches. Gingrich bungled a meeting with Nevada’s governor then suffered through the indignity of having advisers tell reporters that the former House speaker would score the endorsement of Donald Trump, only to watch the unpredictable real estate tycoon back Mitt Romney.
Gingrich’s campaign has always been a bit of a freewheeling affair, especially lined up against the regimented Romney effort. Gingrich is perpetually late, he frequently strays off message and his schedule sometimes seems improvised. His public appearances in Nevada have been surprisingly few, and he didn’t even venture out to caucus sites on Saturday as voters cast ballots.
But in Nevada, organizational problems were laid bare in a fashion that raises questions about whether he’s can compete in upcoming contests.
Gingrich aides say they have been using Nevada — where Romney was heavily favored and Ron Paul has sizable support — to reset the campaign after being clobbered in Florida.
One reason Gingrich held just five public events since arriving in Nevada is that he’s been at closed-door fundraisers and meeting with donors at the Venetian Hotel, lining up the cash he’ll need.
The Gingrich strategy hinges on Super Tuesday on March 6, when the campaign will sweep South again through states that look good for him. Gingrich — who is own chief strategist — and aides have been hunkered down mapping out strategy. Ohio will figure prominently in the mix. He’ll head to the Super Tuesday state on Tuesday, bypassing other states that have contests sooner.
Nevada provides a pretty good example of what not to do.
“We’re a bunch of volunteers that are drinking water through a fire hose,” said George Harris, a national co-chairman of Gingrich’s finance team who hosted a fundraiser for him at his Las Vegas restaurant, Mundo.
“And yeah, sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing. But that’s how it goes sometimes,” Harris said.
In fairness, just three days separated the Florida primary and the Nevada caucuses. Romney carried 51 percent of the vote in the state when he first sought the Republican nomination in 2008, and his Nevada operation remains strong.
But Gingrich fumbled some key opportunities.
A meeting in Carson City Wednesday with Gov. Brian Sandoval was scrapped following scheduling confusion between Gingrich’s national and state staff. Sandoval had backed Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who endorsed Gingrich after exiting the race last month. Gingrich backers in the state had been hoping that even if Sandoval failed to offer up an endorsement, that a photo of the two men together would hold sway among conservative caucusgoers.
Gingrich’s Nevada director Dan Burdish said he was disappointed by the mix up.
The state team had also pushed for more campaign time, including a swing through rural parts of the state. They were rejected.
Without a debate to key in on, Gingrich — who is usually seen as the wonkiest candidate in the room — sometimes seemed downright out of the loop as he met voters.
News on Friday was dominated by new jobless numbers that suggested an economic rebound.
But Gingrich made no mention of them as he plowed through a speech at Stoney’s Rockin Country, a music club in Las Vegas. Asked about them afterward by reporters he said he hadn’t seen them yet.