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Newt Gingrich to fight on but faces a tough road

Chip Somodevilla/GettyImages

Newt Gingrich greeted people at Fred’s Southern Kitchen yesterday in Plant City, Fla.

ORLANDO - Newt Gingrich defiantly vowed last night to take his bid for the presidency to all corners of the country and return victorious to the GOP national convention in Florida.

As his campaign team laid out a strategy to win Southern states and do well enough in other contests to survive, Gingrich took a more ambitious and combative approach that belies growing doubts over his candidacy.

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“We’re going to have people-power defeat money-power in the next six months,’’ he said, alluding to Mitt Romney’s deep pockets. Notably, Gingrich did not congratulate his rival for his victory.

Analysts said the road ahead will be tough for Gingrich, beginning with Saturday’s caucuses in Nevada, where Romney has a head start in money and organization. With the next debate not until Feb. 22 and Deep South states not voting until March, Gingrich must hold on through a month of contests that favor Romney.

A string of losses would only intensify calls from the Republican establishment for Gingrich to quit.

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Gingrich’s campaign is focusing on the Super Tuesday primaries March 6, which include his home state of Georgia and Tennessee, as well as states that he could do well in, such as Alaska, Idaho, and Oklahoma.

Republicans should know better than to count him out, said Merle Black, a professor of politics at Emory University who has long monitored the former House speaker.

“Gingrich’s career is a search for power and he sees opportunity where most people see a dead end,’’ Black said, noting that Gingrich lost in his first two attempts to be elected to the House before winning.

Besides counting on a Southern strategy, Gingrich must win support from Tea Party activists and others unhappy with Romney. Black said that could be difficult if such voters conclude Romney has a better chance of beating President Obama.

While Gingrich went directly from Florida to Nevada, one of his top campaign aides said winning that state, which has a heavy Tea Party presence, was considered a “lost cause.’’ Still, Gingrich is making the effort because Nevada awards its delegates proportionally and he could pick up a handful with a better-than-expected performance, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not a spokesman.

Nevada is also the home state of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who have contributed $10 million to a pro-Gingrich super PAC.

That group pumped in about $6 million to aid Gingrich in Florida, said Rick Tyler, a senior adviser. He declined to discuss spending plans in Nevada and other states, but acknowledged that the super PAC is getting ready for the Super Tuesday contests. “We will be prepared to go all the way to the convention,’’ he said.

The wild cards in the upcoming contests could be former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the favorite of many evangelical Christians, and Representative Ron Paul, the libertarian with a devoted following. Both have said they, too, plan to stay in the race, and could pull votes away from Gingrich.

Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, said Gingrich’s odds are long but his chances can’t be dismissed.

“Gingrich has been counted out twice so far, coming back each time to threaten Romney, so anything is possible in this roller-coaster race,’’ Rothenberg said. Still, he added, February “looks like a tough month’’ for Gingrich, who “may have to hope for a big Romney mistake to have a chance for a third surge.’’

After Nevada’s caucuses, voters in Maine go to the polls from Saturday through Feb. 11, and voters in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri go the polls on Feb. 7. Three more states - Arizona, Michigan, and Washington - close out the calendar before Super Tuesday.

Romney’s advantage in some of these states extends beyond his expansive organization: the former Massachusetts governor won Nevada, Colorado, and Michigan in 2008 and Maine is in his backyard. Gingrich has only recently begun to set up organizations in many of those states.

Spokesman R.C. Hammond said Gingrich’s best opportunities would come in the 10-state Super Tuesday, which will have 467 delegates up for grabs, or about a fifth of the 2,286 available. The primaries include the home states, Massachusetts and Georgia, of the GOP’s two leading contenders.

Yet, Gingrich’s campaign has encountered potholes even on the road to Super Tuesday: He failed to get on the ballot in Virginia, one of the most important contests held that day and his adopted home state, and redistricting problems prompted Texas to delay its primary to April.

To compete on such a broad spectrum of states, the Gingrich campaign must quickly mobilize support, build organizations, and intensify its fund-raising.

“Half the time will be for campaigning, the other half raising money,’’ Hammond said.

In the final three months of 2011, Gingrich raised nearly $10 million, according to his campaign. His fund-raising surged in January, collecting about $5 million, much of it after his decisive victory in South Carolina.

Gingrich, though, hasn’t been able to keep pace with Romney, whose campaign said it had raised $24 million in the final quarter of last year and had $19 million at the end of the year. That does not include money spent by super PACs, independent groups that can advocate for candidates but cannot coordinate activities.

Gingrich’s campaign staff expressed confidence he would return in August with a bounty of delegates for the Republicans National Convention in Tampa.

“There’s still a lot of map out there for the conservative faction of the party,’’ Hammond said.

The Gingrich campaign stressed that only a small percentage of delegates have been selected in the four contests held so far.

“The campaign is shifting to a new phase where opportunities are not limited to a single state,’’ Martin Baker, the campaign’s national political director, wrote in a weekend memo. “No single race will either clinch the nomination for a candidate or knock a candidate out of the race.’’

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report. Bobby Caina Calvan can be reached at bobby.calvan@globe.com. Michael Kranish can be reached at kranish@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKranish
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