Newt Gingrich, his failure to win any states outside of Georgia on Super Tuesday was a disappointment. But for a campaign already struggling to justify its continued existence, a loss in Louisiana this weekend would be closer to a death blow.
Gingrich is lagging badly in the delegate count, with 135 to Rick Santorum’s 263 and Mitt Romney’s 563. More importantly he’s lost virtually all momentum since his game-changing South Carolina victory in January and is quickly becoming a nonstarter in a race that some believe even Santorum’s continued presence in is dubious. His saving grace so far has been his ability compete in Southern states — and only Southern states. But after losing contests to Santorum in Mississippi and Alabama on March 13, even that’s looking suspect.
If ever there was a place for a Gingrich comeback, it’s Louisiana. In addition to being the type of Southern conservative state he’s done best in, Gingrich has retooled his campaign to focus almost entirely on expanding oil production — a huge crowd favorite in the state, where offshore drilling is a major source of jobs.
“It’s his last stand,” one unaligned GOP strategist told TPM. “Louisiana is more his home than New Hampshire is to Romney.”
The centerpiece of his stump speech is a pledge to reduce gas prices to $2.50 a gallon by radically reducing regulations on oil production in America, regardless of whether the experts say his proposal is unlikely to make a dent in prices anytime soon.
“We want to increase the oil production, but wouldn’t it be a lot better to have it in Louisiana?” he said in a speech at Louisiana College this week. “Wouldn’t you rather be in the situation — instead of paying royalties to the Saudi government, the royalties would be paid to American government and Louisiana state government?”
As far as panders go, you can’t do much better than that. But he doesn’t seem to be getting much juice in terms of polling movement for his efforts. The most recent poll, by Rasmussen, puts him at 21 percent, well behind Romney (31 percent) and Santorum (43 percent). A poll several days earlier by Magellan Strategies showed him faring even worse, registering third with only 16 percent.
Gingrich may not have a lot of money to get his message out. His campaign raised only $2.6 million in February and had more debt than cash on hand. His super PAC, Winning Our Future, backed almost entirely by billionaire Sheldon Adelson and the businessman’s family members, has helped out in Louisiana with $50,000 in cable ad spending, but it’s unclear how much longer that gravy train will continue if Gingrich keeps losing races in supposedly favorable states.
“He’s running on fumes,” unaligned GOP strategist Rick Wilson told TPM. “It’s the collapse of Newt Gingrich for the x time, but this is the final one. There’s no more tricks in the hat I can see that would allow him to suddenly emerge even as a force.”
The Santorum campaign continues to nudge Gingrich off stage, hoping that with his official exit will come an influx of anti-Romney support that could help him make the case for remaining in the race as an alternative. A recent Santorum press release on a Louisiana poll pointedly noted that the results showed him doing even better with Newt gone.
“We have said from the beginning that getting this down to a two-man race is an important step to stopping Mitt Romney and defeating Barack Obama,” Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley told TPM.
A spokesman for Gingrich did not immediately return a request for comment.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.