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Polls show Florida rout. Can Newt Gingrich survive till convention?

Even if he loses in Florida, Newt Gingrich might be able to remain a factor in the GOP presidential race until the national convention. But the Republican establishment would not be pleased.   

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True, he turned in weak performances in the last two debates, as Romney turned up the heat. But Gingrich now knows that he has to prepare for an energized Romney in the next debate, if he can hang on until then. It will be Feb. 22 in Mesa, Ariz.  

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The February primary and caucus calendar also works against Gingrich. Next up are the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 4, where Romney has an edge owing to the state’s large Mormon population. Texas Rep. Ron Paul has not been campaigning in Florida, instead working hard in Nevada, where he hopes to pick up some delegates.

Between now and Super Tuesday, March 6, all the contests are outside the South, Gingrich’s home base, where he hopes to do well. But even there, Gingrich’s low-budget campaign got caught unqualified for the ballot in Virginia, and so his name will not appear there and write-ins are banned.

Working in Gingrich’s favor is the rule change by the Republican National Committee that stipulates contests held before April 1 award delegates proportionally, not winner take all. Some states, such as Florida, are flouting that rule, but those that do award proportionally give Gingrich an opportunity to amass delegates.

His bigger obstacle could be the media narrative. If he loses Florida, as expected, he will have lost momentum – and he will face pressure with every subsequent contest to explain what he’s still doing in the race.

He does not have a lot of surrogates in the Republican establishment. So it could fall to people like former candidate Herman Cain, who endorsed Gingrich last Saturday, and Sarah Palin, who has not formally endorsed but sticks up for him on television, to help him make his case.

A wild card could be the tea party movement. Many of its leaders back Gingrich, and they could opt to step up their game in a united front against Romney, whom they see as an unprincipled moderate.

In the end, Gingrich may feel personal financial pressure to drop out after a certain period. If he wants to return to his life as a consultant in Washington, he may not want to anger the GOP establishment too much by dragging on a nasty confrontation with Romney.

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