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Politics

Newt Gingrich vows to fight to convention, but Nevada campaigning fell short

Evan Vucci/AP

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks last night during a news conference in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS - Newt Gingrich vowed anew last night to fight for the Republican presidential nomination all the way to his party’s national convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.

On the stump, he also ticks off the things he would do in the first hours after being sworn in as president next January, first among them abolishing all White House policy “czars” and moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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Yet when it comes to actually working for the job, Gingrich fell woefully short in Nevada, the first state to vote since he lost the Florida primary to rival Mitt Romney.

All told, the former House speaker held five public events in the three days leading up to the Nevada caucuses. Only one was outside Las Vegas, an appearance in Reno on Wednesday.

He spent much of the rest of the time around his hotel just off the glittering Las Vegas Strip. Gingrich said rather than courting voters, he was busy plotting the remainder of his campaign. He also held a fund-raiser Friday night.

Yesterday, as Romney campaigned in Colorado before flying back to Nevada for his second victory speech of the week, and as Ron Paul campaigned in Minnesota while Rick Santorum also stumped in Colorado, Gingrich’s only public event was a post-caucus appearance in a sterile ballroom at the Venetian Hotel with an audience of nothing more than reporters.

There was no cheering crowd assembled to buck him up as Romney was declared the winner.

The dearth of public events, and Gingrich’s total lack of television advertising in a state where he spent all week ostensibly lobbying for caucus votes, made it appear - his own protestations aside - as if he were more interested in garnering attention than votes.

He made news on Friday with a retooled stump speech suggesting Romney is a clone policywise of President Obama, dubbing the former Massachusetts governor “Obama-lite.” But he had nothing to say until late in the day on the big national news of the day, a decline in the nation’s unemployment rate that sent the stock market to its highest level in over three years.

Romney, by contrast, spoke about it during his first event of the day in Reno.

Gingrich confirmed that he spent the past several days huddling with advisers, plotting his post-Nevada strategy. A schedule released yesterday showed him remaining in Nevada through today, before setting off for Colorado, Minnesota, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., during the remainder of the coming week.

Despite his inactivity last week, Gingrich remains the biggest name among the remaining Republican candidates. And he squashed rumors he was considering quitting the race.

“I am a candidate for president of the United States. I will be a candidate for president of the United States. We will go to Tampa,” he declared.

He blamed the speculation on rumors spread by Romney’s staff, saying him quitting the race is the “greatest fantasy.”

But he pledged to carry on with the strategy he crafted in Las Vegas: more confrontational debate performances, more negative TV ads, and a series of positive speeches to flesh out his candidacy.

“I suspect this debate will continue for a long time,” said Gingrich. “Our commitment is to seek to find a series of victories whereas by the end of the Texas primary will leave us about at parity with Governor Romney and, at that point forward, see if we can’t actually win the nomination.”

Were Gingrich to drop out of the race, it would remove perhaps the last major impediment to Romney winning the nomination.

Romney didn’t concede that last night, focusing almost solely on Obama in a brief victory speech that largely repeated the comments he made after winning Florida.

“If I’m elected president, my priority will be worrying about your job, not saving my own,” he told a cheering crowd as a resort on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

In one new line, he continued to argue that Obama favors government handouts over job creation, unlike the pioneer spirit of many Americans’ immigrant ancestors.

“It was not for a free ticket; it was for freedom,” Romney said of their aspirations. “It was not for the pursuit of government benefits; it was for the pursuit of happiness.”

An earlier rather than later Gingrich departure would especially be a boon to Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who has been trying to hang on with the hope that he can emerge as the true conservative alternative to Romney.

To date, he and Gingrich have been competing for that vote.

“If you’re a swing voter, who are you going to believe?” Santorum asked a crowd in Montrose, Colo., before the results were announced. “America is not looking for well-oiled weather vanes. They are looking for leaders.”

Colorado holds caucuses on Tuesday.

Paul, meanwhile, continues unaffected by who and how many rivals remain in the race.

Campaigning last night in Arden Hills, Minn., ahead of that state’s Tuesday caucuses, Paul took advantage of his latest network news audience to tout his libertarian views.

While Paul campaigned heavily and touted an active organization in Nevada, he finished third - behind Gingrich - in the caucuses, backsliding from his second-place finish in 2008.

That was one small consolation for Gingrich.

“It sounds like the revolution has already come to Minnesota!” Paul told the crowd as it cheered his arrival.

He went on to speak about his longheld focus on liberty and argued that an expanding chunk of the electorate is embracing his ideas.

“Something pretty big is happening in this country,” said Paul. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm now for the cause of more freedom and less government, and a free market economy.”

Paul said the nation’s problems can’t be blamed solely on Obama and his fellow Democrats, since overspending and foreign entanglements have occurred as both parties held the White House.

“There’s been too much compromise in Washington,” he said. “If they compromise on doing the wrong things, it’s not worth very much.”

Zeroed in on spreading his ideals as much as he is in accumulating convention delegates, Paul said: “We’ve entered into a phase in these last four years where it’s been recognized that this debt, that this financing and the printing of money cannot be sustained. So our efforts now to return to sound economic policies, return to our Constitution, is more vital and more necessary than ever before.”

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.

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