TAMPA, Fla. -- Different Republican presidential campaigns on the verge of defeat have resorted to the same refrain now for two weeks in a row.
Their line has been simple. It's going to be a long campaign, they've said.
A week ago, it was top Mitt Romney backer John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor, who said that the campaign would be a "long slog" that lasted through the summer.
Sunday, it was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who vowed for the second day in a row to take his campaign "all the way to the convention" in August.
Both times, the message has been damage control, to keep an opponent on the verge of a big win from gathering too much momentum.
With that same goal in mind, Gingrich will barnstorm across this state Monday, hitting five cities in a last-minute push to stave off the double-digit defeat at the former Massachusetts governor's hands that has been foreshadowed in polls of Florida voters over the last few days.
Gingrich will begin the day in Jacksonville and head to Pensacola, Tampa, Fort Myers, and will end the day in Orlando. He will be joined on the campaign trail by Michael Reagan, a son of former President Ronald Reagan, and former presidential candidate Herman Cain will appear with him at a rally at his Tampa stop.
But it appears more than likely that Gingrich, after scoring a decisive and stunning upset over Romney in South Carolina a week ago, is headed for a resounding defeat in Florida. Since he was bested last Monday in the first of two debates in the state, 10 different polls have shown Gingrich's support falling dramatically and Romney pulling ahead by an average of 11 points.
In light of that, Gingrich did two things on Sunday. He attacked Romney with renewed aggression from morning to night, lacerating him after a stop at a megachurch in the Tampa suburbs, and then hopping on a Tea Party-organized conference call Sunday night to label Romney a "Massachusetts liberal who was for abortion, for tax increases and for gun control." And he launched preemptive strikes at the voices who will say his campaign is over if he loses by double digits on Tuesday.
"I think this is going to be a straight-out contest for the next four or five months," Gingrich said.
Gingrich also went after Romney Sunday morning in appearances on the political talk shows, blaming his own misfortune over the past week on Romney's duplicity.
"He would not be where he is today, the debates this week wouldn't have been where they were, if he had told the truth," Gingrich said on ABC's "This Week." "I don't know how you debate a person with civility if they're prepared to say things that are just plain factually false."
Romney, in an interview with ABC News Sunday afternoon, labeled Gingrich's attacks "sad and painfully revealing."
"As I watch Speaker Gingrich flailing about and casting about and attacking, I have to think that he's seeing a diminution of support and recognizing he's in trouble here," Romney said.
Romney's communications director Gail Gitcho called Gingrich's comments "a stunning display of desperation."
And Romney's campaign went on the offensive, marshaling the support of big name surrogates such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) to defend Romney.
"I know Mitt Romney. I know the kind of father he is, grandfather he is, and husband he is. I have seen Mitt Romney with his kids, and even with my own. Mitt Romney is man of impeccable character," Christie said. "Even though I am not the one being attacked, it offends me that Newt Gingrich would attack the character of Mitt Romney."
Gingrich, however, is unlikely to cease and desist. He has made it clear that he is personally offended by the Romney campaign's criticisms as well as by its advantages in money and establishment support. He has begun to refer to his campaign as representing "people power" versus Romney's "money power."
He is now making a naked play for Tea Party support, but it is clear that the conservative grassroots is not yet fully committed to Gingrich. If he hopes to survive after Florida for much longer than Super Tuesday on March 6, he will need to figure out how to close the deal with those voters.
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