Could Newt Gingrich win the Delaware primary?

Newt Gingrich has spent a lot of time in Delaware and racked up a key endorsement Monday. In a low-turnout primary, anything could happen.

By , Staff Writer

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    Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks at Delmarva Christian High School in Georgetown, Del., Wednesday.
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There’s a chance Newt Gingrich could win the Republican primary Tuesday in Delaware, according to political observers in the state.

Yes, the former House speaker is still running for president and has been quietly (at least to the national media) spending a lot of time in the First State, racking up endorsements while Mitt Romney all but ignores the state. And on Monday afternoon, the state’s Republican national committeewoman, Priscilla Rakestraw, switched her endorsement from Mr. Romney to Mr. Gingrich. The endorsement took place on the Rick Jensen Show on WDEL-AM, a news-talk radio station in Wilmington, Del.

Romney remains the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination, but that doesn’t mean primary voters who haven’t cast ballots yet are ready to fall in line – particularly those who don’t think Romney is conservative enough.

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And in Delaware, a small state, a few motivated rabblerousers in a low-turnout primary can bring surprising results. Remember, in September 2010, tea-party-backed candidate Christine O’Donnell shocked the political universe by beating popular, nine-term Rep. Mike Castle (R) for the GOP Senate nomination. Ms. O’Donnell went on to lose the general to now-Sen. Chris Coons (D) by more than 16 points, a seat many Delaware observers thought Mr. Castle, who typically won his races with at least 65 percent of the vote, would win.

So what if Gingrich wins the Delaware primary? After all, only 17 delegates are at stake, and Gingrich has no realistic shot at catching Romney. In the RealClearPolitics count, Gingrich has 141 delegates to Romney’s 683, out of the 1,144 needed to secure the nomination.

“A Gingrich win would probably trigger a round of stories that Romney-the-inevitable ain't Romney-the-lovable: Where retail politics still matters – and where the Romney campaign saw no point in carpet-bombing Gingrich via Philadelphia television – Newt could topple the anointed one,” writes Allan Loudell, WDEL’s noon-hour and evening drive-time host, on his blog.

A Gingrich victory would be an embarrassment to Romney, who needs to make as smooth a transition to the general election campaign as possible, Republican strategists say. But were Gingrich to win Delaware – his first victory since winning South Carolina and Georgia – it would offer him a thin reed of hope, and perhaps some badly needed campaign cash. If Romney were to fail somehow in his quest for 1,144 delegates before the Republican convention in Tampa late in August, then there would be a contested convention, and in theory, Gingrich could be in contention. But this is all verging on political science fiction.

In addition to Delaware, four other states hold primaries Tuesday: Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New York, and Connecticut. In all, 200 delegates are at stake, not enough for Romney to cross the finish line. Still, the Republican National Committee and Romney campaign have moved toward closer coordination.

In an interview with ABC News in Scottsdale, Ariz., RNC chairman Reince Priebus said that while the committee would continue to “show respect” for Gingrich and the other remaining candidate, Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas, Tuesday’s primaries will pave the way toward a “total merger between the RNC and the presumptive nominee,” according to ABC’s The Note.

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