Tonight, Newt Gingrich had his hopes pinned on a Delaware win. Newt lost Delaware early, and handily. Ergo, Newt is now more or less hopeless. But he is still as defiant, it seems, as the man whose name brought us the word "quixotic."
With 81 percent of precincts reporting, Mitt Romney had doubled Newt's total in Delaware. Newt, at the very least, managed to best Ron Paul, who didn't compete in Delaware. That left Gingrich to venture out in front of supporters to discuss another dispiriting evening at the polls. As Benjy Sarlin of TPM summed up, it was "a rambling speech on student loans [and] gay marriage." Whatever inclination the cable news networks may have had in listening to Gingrich talk -- and for their purposes, they may as well have done, as Gingrich's loss in Delaware has made tonight one long anti-climactic drive with nothing to talk about -- was eliminated when Romney grabbed the mic at his own rally, bent on making tonight his de facto nomination acceptance, and took the cable news eyeballs for himself.
And that's about it. Is Newt staying in? Earlier, his campaign said that a second-place finish -- despite earning Gingrich a hot sack of nothing at all -- was the standard for continuing in the race. Gingrich doesn't have much hope of winning the delegate race. His goal is to get to the convention and bring havoc with him. But as I noted earlier, he still needs to clear a benchmark -- five popular vote wins in the state primaries -- to receive the convention participation privileges he needs to manufacture whatever nonsense he's got planned.
You can look ahead at the coming primaries and see some opportunities for Newt. The basic model for beating Romney is exploiting his weakness with evangelical voters in states where those voters form significant populations. Ahead of Gingrich on the road are North Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas. In ordinary circumstances, you wouldn't be thought a fool for believing that Gingrich could compete in those states.
But Gingrich's attraction to Delaware, which doesn't particularly share a voter profile favorable to Gingrich in a matchup with Romney, is revealing. It's a small state that's easy to traverse -- the ideal place for a stripped-down campaign that's $4.5 million in debt to operate. If Gingrich could have picked it up on the cheap, it would have been a great boon to his efforts. As it didn't play out that way, he's got a harder road ahead that's going to require him to spend considerably more to get to the five state benchmark. (Austin Cassidy at Uncovered Politics reports today that Gingrich is within 10 points of Romney, "putting him within striking distance." We'll see.)
So will Gingrich drop out of the race after tonight, or at the very least enter some period of "reassessment?" It's probably too soon to know that for sure. For what it's worth, CNN's Steve Brusk reports that Gingrich ended his speech by "saying he wants to be clear to the media: he will be at all 23 events in North Carolina this week." So it appears that Newt Gingrich will press onward, scorned and covered with scars, looking for windmills at which to tilt.
UPDATE: Per CBS News: "Newt Gingrich says he plans to finish a week of campaigning in North Carolina but acknowledges that he needs to look realistically at where it stands."
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