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Gingrich outlines a survival strategy

By Shawna Shepherd and John Helton, CNN
updated 6:49 PM EST, Sun February 5, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Gingrich says the goal is to make it to the Super Tuesday primaries
  • Newt Gingrich tells reporters he will not withdraw from GOP race
  • Gingrich says he will highlight differences between him and Mitt Romney
  • Super Tuesday primaries on March 6 include Gingrich's native Georgia

Las Vegas (CNN) -- On his heels after two straight primary defeats to rival Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich insists he is in the Republican presidential race until the August nominating convention.

However, Gingrich is scaling back some expectations, outlining a survival strategy while continuing to boldly predict he will remain a viable force in the four-man race.

"Our goal is to get to Super Tuesday, which is much more favorable territory," Gingrich said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," referring to March 6 contests in his native Georgia and nine other states.

The night before, Gingrich chose to surround himself with reporters instead of supporters after finishing a distant second to Romney in the Nevada caucuses.

Gingrich convened an unusual news conference as caucus results came in to dispel rumors that he was dropping out of the race and to lay out his strategy for winning the nomination.

He accused Romney's campaign of spreading false rumors.

"What happens is every primary day or caucus day, the Romney headquarters in Boston sends out the rumor that they believe I will withdraw, which of course is their greatest fantasy," Gingrich told reporters, "I'm not going to withdraw. I'm actually pretty happy with where we are, and I think the contrast between Governor Romney and me is going to get wider and wider and clearer and clearer over the next few weeks."

Coming out of a decisive loss in Florida last Tuesday, Gingrich aides had said their candidate would write off Nevada and instead look forward to states where he would be more competitive. Then, he showed up in Nevada.

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For the most part, Gingrich kept a relatively light public schedule since arriving in Las Vegas early Wednesday and spent time huddled with senior campaign aides figuring out a realistic path forward.

"We frankly spent the last four days laying out a campaign for the next few months in which, although we will be outspent, we think we can communicate through the clutter and we think we'll be able to draw decisively for the American people how big the difference is" between himself and Romney, Gingrich told reporters on Saturday.

On Sunday, he continued to hammer what he called Romney's moderate record as Massachusetts governor while calling himself the most viable conservative alternative to face President Barack Obama in November.

Discomfort among GOP consevatives with the more-moderate Romney has kept Gingrich in the race against the better-funded and organized former Massachusetts governor.

In the campaign so far, conservatives have given Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain a test drive before Gingrich's turn came at the end of last year.

Gingrich said Sunday that he plans to continue to draw distinctions between himself and Romney, and that will allow him to be competitive. Romney gave Gingrich an opportunity to make that distinction when he said last week there was a safety net to take care of the poorest Americans.

Gingrich pounced on that, saying that believing in a safety net went against conservative principles, but his message didn't seem to get much traction in Nevada.

"The safety net in many ways has become a spider web. It traps them at the bottom," Gingrich said Sunday. "Real conservatives want it to be a trampoline" that provides people an opportunity to get job, buy a house and improve their lives, he added.

At his news conference Saturday, Gingrich also played the part of the underdog, pitting himself against the Republican establishment that he said fears a prolonged campaign in which the eventual nominee is damaged by attacks from within.

The longer the campaign goes, he said, the more opportunities it affords him to demonstrate the differences between him and Romney.

The calendar in February doesn't appear to favor Gingrich, but he could get a bounce on Super Tuesday when he'll be running again in the South. His lone primary victory out of five contests so far came in South Carolina.

On March 6, there will be contests in Georgia, which he represented in Congress, as well as neighboring Tennessee and conservative Oklahoma. Gingrich predicted he will be close to Romney in convention delegates won after the Texas primary in April.

Gingrich's campaign has gone from middle to top to bottom to top to middle since he got into the race last year. Even the campaign's launch was a bit confusing when an adviser announced last March that he was getting into the race only to have a spokesman contradict the adviser.

Later, Gingrich contradicted his spokesman in a radio interview later to say that he was getting into the race.

His campaign was written off when most of his top level staffers left after Gingrich went on a Mediterranean cruise last summer when they thought he should be campaigning.

But Gingrich broke through at the end of last year, partly on some strong debate performances and partly because conservatives were not comfortable with the more moderate Romney.

The comeback seemed nearly complete when Gingrich claimed a stunning victory in South Carolina, turning a double-digit poll deficit into a double-digit primary win over the course of two weeks.

But in the days leading up to the primary, Romney realized that he had a fight on his hands and unleashed relentless attacks on the former House speaker on the stump and in ads from his campaign and outside groups that supported him.

Those attacks continued into Tuesday's Florida primary, where Romney won a decisive victory.

Gingrich discounted Florida, in which he says he was outspent in advertising 5-1, most of it attacks based on falsehoods, by his account.

"I am not going to defend the outcome in a state where I was outspent 5-1," he told reporters Saturday.

His strategy was clear. By talking to reporters, he said, his message will spread through the media beyond primary and caucus states.

"I have run a campaign which twice now has made me the frontrunner, and I suspect will be again by the Texas primary or so," Gingrich said. "That really is a national campaign."

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

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