U-T San Diego, John Gastaldo) SAN DIEGO COUNTY OUT; NO SALES; COMMERCIAL INTERNET OUT; FOREIGN OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; TV OUT; MAGS OUT, Associated Press
TULARE, Calif. — Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign has a history of near-death experiences and he insists another resurrection is on its way.
"I'm very happy to continue this campaign based on real solutions that ... are going to attract a lot of Americans," Gingrich said Monday during a fundraising swing in California. "We've done it twice and I suspect you're about to see us do it again."
The third time may not be the charm. Gingrich sustained a string of disappointing performances in several state contests last week and has watched rival Rick Santorum emerge as the leading conservative opponent to Mitt Romney.
While Romney and Santorum move toward a face-off in Michigan's primary Feb. 28 and Romney campaigns to win Arizona the same day, Gingrich has all but stepped off the trail to focus on raising money. Ahead lie the 10-state Super Tuesday contests of March 6, including a handful of Southern states where he hopes he can revive his sputtering candidacy.
"Newt has to do two things simultaneously: Drive a movement for the 60 to 75 percent of Republicans who are conservative and don't want Romney to get the nomination," said Rick Tyler, a former Gingrich aide now with Winning Our Future, a "super" political action committee backing his candidacy. "Then he has to get out the primary map and look at states that are conservative and focus on them."
Gingrich has a record of resuscitating his candidacy when others have written him off.
He surged into a lead in Iowa not long before that state's first-in-the-nation caucuses and just months after his entire team of advisers quit over disagreements about campaign strategy. That rise was halted after the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future deployed $3 million in ads casting Gingrich as a baggage-laden Washington hypocrite.
His campaign was revived again in South Carolina, where he trounced Romney despite a similar barrage of negative super PAC ads. Then his momentum was halted in Florida's primary Jan. 31, where Restore Our Future and the Romney campaign together spent $15 million on attack ads.
Since then, Gingrich has struggled.
He came in a distant second to Romney in Nevada on Feb. 4 and badly lost four straight contests last week. Santorum won in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, breathing new life into his own limping candidacy.
Gingrich also placed a disappointing third in the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll last weekend despite giving a speech that drew praise and cheers from attendees.
If it's a disheartening turn of events for Gingrich, you'd never hear him say it.
He's brought his signature bravado to a handful of public appearances in California — from a sparsely attended event at a Mexican restaurant outside Los Angeles to a tea party gathering in Pasadena to a stroll through a huge agriculture expo in Tulare, where he admired farm equipment. He delights in excoriating bureaucrats, chiding President Barack Obama as a "radical" and casting himself as the only GOP contender with bold ideas for fixing the nation's problems.
"You need somebody who understands what America needs to do to be successful, someone who's had the experience of doing it, and then you've got to have somebody who can go out and explain it to the American people. That's why I'm running," he told reporters in Tulare.
For all the big ideas, Gingrich's campaign still has something of an improvisational feel. He ventured to the San Diego Zoo on Tuesday without bringing or notifying the national reporters assigned to cover him. He visited the elephant exhibit and fed a panda, with only a handful of local press — alerted by the zoo, not his campaign — on hand to record the visit.
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