Newt Gingrich's Southern strategy to get back into the race for the Republican presidential nomination has collapsed, and his campaign is in the red, but the former US House of Representatives speaker is marching on.
"Some campaigns make you travel all the way to Wall Street to pay $2,500 for a photo with a candidate," a Gingrich spokesman told the National Journal, which broke the story. "We are trying out a new tactic and asking our supporters at our rallies for a nominal donation. And guess what, it is working."
Gingrich has about $1.6 million in debts, according to his last campaign finance report.
Surrounded by a tight-knit team that includes his daughters and his third wife, Callista, Gingrich appears to be enjoying the campaign trail despite his dwindling electoral fortunes. Disliked by his party's establishment, he still receives regular affirmation from die-hard fans and time in the national spotlight.
"He is enjoying himself and it doesn't bother him that a lot of people are spending time, money, and emotion trying to get him votes that are moot," said Jack Glaser, associate professor at the University of California Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, adding that Texas congressman Ron Paul was in the same boat.
"Gingrich and Paul may have convinced themselves that they are trying to save the country, while being less inclined to recognize or acknowledge that they're enjoying the attention and perks. They both do seem to be having a good time."
It was his second big defeat in the South in two weeks, underlining the futility of his White House bid. Gingrich represented Georgia in Congress for two decades and built his campaign around expected strong showings in the conservative region.
Rick Santorum, with seven state wins in March alone, has taken the mantle of the conservative alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. With even Santorum under pressure to end his campaign to further party unity, Gingrich's White House bid looks even more quixotic.
Yet Gingrich - who won only 16 percent support in Louisiana, one of the states he was supposed to do well in - has vowed to stay in the race until the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, in August.
Gingrich has embraced the role of spoiler whose goal is to thwart Romney's chances of winning the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination before August, and instead attempt to force an open convention. There, Gingrich seems to believe he could capture the nomination.
"In a setting where I have grave doubts about Governor Romney's ability to win the general election, I have a citizen's duty to try to help us get to an open convention," Gingrich told NPR radio last week.
The presence of Callista beside her husband at almost every stop in the campaign has done little to help Gingrich. A Public Policy Polling survey last week showed only 18 percent of people view her favorably, versus the 44 percent who see the former congressional aide as unfavorable.
Gingrich, 68, has acknowledged having an affair with Callista, 46, while he was married to his second wife.
"This is clearly still an open race. So, on behalf of the more than 176,000 Americans who have donated to Newt 2012, I will carry our solution-oriented campaign to Tampa," Gingrich said after the Louisiana results were in.
They heard Gingrich talk about his plans to bring gasoline prices down to $2.50 a gallon from the current price of about $4 with a drill-more strategy.
The size of his audience was roughly the same as the combined sum of Gingrich's campaign staff, Secret Service detail and press corps.
Indeed, the media - whom Gingrich routinely criticizes in speeches - is the campaign's lifeblood now that free publicity from the many televised candidates' debates has ended.
Gingrich's crowds, smaller these days, still often fawn over the former House speaker's grasp of detail and ability to jump from one large topic to another.
Milo Young, 65, of Grande Isle, Louisiana, called Gingrich "one of the most intelligent men in the country." Perhaps no compliment could top that of Anna Furney, 62, of Plant City, Florida, who termed meeting Gingrich "one of the most exciting moments of my life - you know, like when you have that first baby laid in your arms?"
Gingrich was relaxed in Louisiana, where his week-long, campaign swing was heavy on food, folks and fun.
"I've done more gumbo this week ... it was fun," Gingrich told reporters in Louisiana, referring to one of the state's signature dishes.
Arguably, the long campaign has given him everything from a louder voice in the national debate, recently on energy policy, to more quality time with his grown daughters, Kathy Gingrich Lubbers and Jackie Gingrich Cushman, who have significant roles with Newt 2012 and were by his side in New Orleans.
Although he might still harbor hopes that Santorum or even Romney could begin to lose momentum, Gingrich may also be keeping himself in the campaign as long as possible to boost sales of his many books and improve his already lucrative public speaking opportunities. Gingrich in November said he "was charging $60,000 a speech" in recent years.
Book signings by Gingrich and his wife were at one point a standard add-on to campaign events. The pair have also held screenings of their film "A City Upon a Hill," about the concept of American exceptionalism.
"It seems like the big parts of his life (at least his public life) are giving speeches, writing books, lobbying, and fundraising. Running for president is complementary to the other activities and this is peak season, so why not get a good run out of it?" Glaser said.
But the campaign is gasping for air after wins in only two states, Georgia and South Carolina, dried up fundraising. At the end of February, the campaign had only $1.5 million in cash on hand while its debts totaled $1.6 million. Reports have surfaced of vendors in early voting states still waiting to be paid for their services.
Much of Gingrich's early spurt was fueled by his allies at the Winning Our Future Super PAC.
The group has raised $18.9 million, with $16.5 million of that coming from Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his family, who are counting on Gingrich to make his staunch support of Israel a central campaign issue.
The Super PAC can keep ads on the air, but cannot directly pay for items such as hotels, charter jets and staff salaries. High costs incurred for private planes have dogged the Gingrich campaign from the start.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Eric Beech)