Race for GOP presidential nomination going the distance, but Mitt Romney says he'll eventually win

Published: Monday, Jan. 30 2012 10:00 a.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns at Lanco Paint Company in Orlando, Fla., Friday, Jan. 27, 2012. Romney and Gingrich square off over immigration and other issues as they look to woo Hispanics before Tuesday's Florida primary.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

» View our political blog, with live updates and analysis of the Florida primary.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — No one expects the race for the GOP presidential nomination to be settled by the results of Tuesday's Florida primary, but Mitt Romney said it will be his name on the November ballot.

Romney's chief rival in Florida, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is promising to take his fight for the nomination as far as the floor of the Republican National Convention in August.

"That's an indication that you're going to lose," Romney told reporters aboard a chartered flight Monday between Jacksonville and Clearwater. "When you say you're going to go on no matter what happens, it's usually not a good sign."

He said he expects to have the 1,144 delegates required before the convention but said "everybody has the right to stay in as long as they think they can get the delegates that they need."

One of Romney's top surrogates on the campaign trail, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said a victory in Florida will generate momentum going into Nevada's caucus vote Saturday and the elections that follow.

"People want to get behind a winner," Chaffetz said. "This is huge. It's the biggest fight so far. This is a critical, critical state."

After Florida, he said the race turns "rapid fire. It truly becomes a national fight from here on out" as the pace of the primary calendar accelerates with multiple states voting at the same time, including 11 on Super Tuesday, March 6.

Utah's June 26th presidential primary is the last in the nation. The state gave Romney a whopping 90 percent of the vote in the 2008 GOP primary over the party's eventual nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

There was a push to move up Utah's primary to give Romney an early victory, but lawmakers balked at the estimated $3 million price tag of holding the primary on Super Tuesday again.

Chaffetz said that's understandable.

"Those decisions were made a long time ago for fiscal reasons. You've got to respect that," the congressman said. "I appreciate the state promoting frugalness."

Chaffetz and former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who is serving as an advisor to Romney's campaign, are both headed to Nevada later this week.

Longtime Romney supporter Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said none of the remaining candidates are likely to be ready to leave the race right away.

Besides Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are still in the running. Both have left Florida and are campaigning in other states.

"This foursome may stay in the race for awhile, but I think a decisive victory for Romney in Florida will pretty much wrap it up in the eyes of the public and the media," Jowers said. "The only thing left will be going through the motions."

Romney indicated he could be in for a long battle.

"I think there are states that are ahead that we all know are going to present challenges and opportunities for the other candidates and for me as well," he said. "I don't think you can ever count on a state being in your corner."

Gingrich's campaign took a page out of the Romney playbook Monday morning, sending a surrogate to talk to reporters gathered at a heavy equipment company in Jacksonville for a Romney rally. Chaffetz has been attending Gingrich events in Florida for several days.

"We're going all the way to convention," Rick Tyler, a senior strategist for the super PAC supporting Gingrich. "We'll see you all there. I'm sorry, we're going to make this exciting."

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