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Florida Primary Election: In The Bunker With Newt Gingrich

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MIAMI -- From before the GOP race began in earnest last summer until as recently as this week, Newt Gingrich's close personal and political friends have been urging him to see his candidacy as a crusade that he should take all the way to the GOP convention in Tampa this summer.

And after some initial reluctance, they have found a willing listener. Sources told The Huffington Post that the former speaker had decided in the fall that he would quit the campaign if he did not win South Carolina. But he did. Now, even as he faces defeat in Florida, he is saying publicly and privately that he is in it for the long haul -- if for no other reason than to give credibility to his effort to solicit cash for the Southern-based (and Newt-friendly) Super Tuesday primaries on March 6.

"I told Newt he has to commit publicly to taking it to Tampa," said Christopher Ruddy, CEO and editor of Newsmax, the influential, Florida-based conservative magazine and website. "And he's agreed. This is a fight for the conservative soul of the Republican Party. Besides, who would give him money if they weren't sure he wanted to fight this to the end?"

Gingrich has heard -- and accepted -- the same advice from his longtime friend and biographer Craig Shirley, who is said to think that the former speaker can make a stand for conservative principles similar to that taken in 1976 by Ronald Reagan against then-President Gerald R. Ford. Shirley talked this over with Newt last summer, sources said.

"Newt sees himself as another Reagan," said Roger Stone, a Miami-based political consultant with deep ties to a generation of GOP figures. "Some see that as a fantasy, but not Newt."

The historical parallel is inexact at best. Reagan was a Washington outsider; Newt a creature of Capitol Hill and K Street. Reagan was more of a philosophical conservative than observers knew; Newt was drummed out of the U. S. House speakership in part because he did too many deals with Bill Clinton. Reagan, a confident man, never whined about the opposition; Newt never stops.

Still, Newt is aware that the most active part of the GOP base has little use for Mitt Romney, no matter how wary its adherents are of Gingrich's sordid personal history and erratic public behavior. Perhaps hoping against hope, they think that a late pro-Newt push by Sarah Palin and revulsion at Romney's strong-arm tactics will allow Gingrich to finish a stronger second here than current polls suggest he will.

If Gingrich finishes a respectable second here -- meaning a single-digit loss -- he will declare a moral victory and figure out how to generate the cash and the free-media notice that can somehow get him across the moat of February.

But even if he finishes further back, don't expect him to quit. He's been planning since last summer to go all the way, and there is no obvious reason why he would change his mind now.

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