Gingrich faces recent setback

Katharine Q. Seelye

Published: Saturday, Jan. 28 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at the Republican presidential candidates debate at the University of South Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012.

Matt Rourke, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Attn.: Fla. () —

Ashley Parker contributed reporting from Pensacola, Fla.

c.2012 New York Times News Service<

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Despite facing recent setbacks, Newt Gingrich pledged on Saturday to stay in the nominating fight until the end, vowing to a group in central Florida, "We're going to the convention."

Gingrich made the remarks in Brooksville as he has faced a torrent of criticism from establishment Republicans and a recent decline in the polls, and as he comes off two debates in which his main opponent, Mitt Romney, has been more agile and aggressive.

Gingrich predicted a "wild and woolly" campaign ahead as he barreled through a series of speeches and town-hall-style meetings on Florida's affluent "Treasure Coast" before the state's primary on Tuesday.

At the same time, his campaign was eagerly watching as a backlash started to develop against the attacks focused on him orchestrated by elements of the Republican establishment that have rallied around Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination.

The Romney team and its supporters have portrayed Gingrich as erratic, unhinged and too temperamental to be president. They also say that Gingrich has no chance of beating President Barack Obama in November.

These attacks have prompted Sarah Palin, among others, to rush to Gingrich's defense.

The establishment is "trying to crucify this man and rewrite history," Palin told Fox News, referring to the Romney camp's attempts to cast Gingrich as someone who was not as close to President Ronald Reagan as he has claimed.

Palin also excoriated conservative writers who have denigrated Gingrich, including George Will and Peggy Noonan, who called Gingrich an "angry little attack muffin."

Palin's comments followed those of the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who assailed the Romney team on Thursday for organizing a "coordinated attack" against Gingrich. Referring to the attempt to decouple Gingrich from Reagan, Limbaugh said: "That kind of stuff is why people hate Romney so much."

Trailing Romney in some polls in Florida, Gingrich is broadcasting a pair of tough advertisements here against him while also preparing for a long campaign that he hopes will be reinvigorated when the race reopens in Nevada, which holds its caucuses on Saturday.

"I fully expect the next couple of weeks to get wild and woolly," Gingrich said Friday night, according to The Palm Beach Daily News. He spoke at a private fundraiser at the home of Gay Gaines, a longtime friend and former chairman of GOPAC, a fundraising organization that recruited and trained local Republican candidates for higher office.

At a rally on a golf course here under a brilliant warm sun on Saturday, Gingrich said he was "very proud to run on a Reagan-Gingrich record," drawing enthusiastic applause from a crowd of about 150 people standing around in shorts and flip-flops.

Gingrich has not projected the kind of confidence he did before the South Carolina primary last week, when he swept to an unexpected victory.

He said Saturday that he would "do well" in Florida, and without predicting that he would win here, he told the crowd: "If we win Florida, I will be the nominee."

At a rally for Romney on Saturday in Pensacola, the crowd that greeted him, stretching from dock to dock and leaning over the balconies at the Fish House, was treated to several cameos before an energetic and sunny candidate took the stage.

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