Clichés abound at this early point in any presidential race. “Never say never.” “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
And in the cold light of a Nevada desert morning, those seem apt even though Mitt Romney won that state’s nominating caucuses by a wide margin – his second big victory in a row following Florida just four days earlier – leaving his main rival Newt Gingrich to figure out a plausible comeback path.
Come convention time next August in Tampa, Fla., it’ll take 1,144 delegates to win the nomination. So far, Romney has 97 – just 8.5 percent of total. Still, other numbers gathered at the Huffington Post’s “Election Dashboard” web site, indicate strong standing and momentum for the former Massachusetts governor.
He’s won 94 endorsements from Republican governors, senators, and members of congress as well as "automatic delegates" – national committee members and state party chairmen. Gingrich has just 11. (Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have 3 each.)
Romney’s campaign has raised $57 million. Gingrich’s has raised $12.7 million – which is more than Santorum ($2.2 million), but less than Paul ($26 million). Gingrich’s independent super PAC may have outspent Romney’s by roughly three-to-one ($22 million to $7 million). But Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands hotel and casino, whose extended family has given $11 million to Gingrich’s super PAC, has quietly given the Romney camp assurances that he’d be backing the former Massachusetts governor if he wins the nomination.
Gingrich has more Twitter followers than Romney. But at this point, the Intrade prediction market gives the former House Speaker only a 4 percent chance of winning the nomination, compared to 87 percent for Romney. Gingrich’s campaign remains roughly $600,000 in debt, reports the Washington Post, and he failed to win a place on the ballot for Virginia’s Super Tuesday primary election.
But, again, it’s early days in the race. There could be new revelations or verbal gaffes – like Romney’s personal income tax history or his recent comment about not being concerned about the very poor.
Gingrich will keep hammering away at Romney. Speaking of Romney’s attack ads, Gingrich said Saturday night, "I had never before seen a person who I thought was a serious candidate for president be that fundamentally dishonest.”
Meanwhile, he’s laid out his plan to stay a viable candidate – what appears to be a southern strategy designed to close the delegate gap between him and Romney.
"Our goal is to get to Super Tuesday, which is much more favorable territory," Gingrich said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." Super Tuesday, which is March 6, features 10 state primaries and caucuses, including Gingrich’s home state of Georgia as well as Tennessee.
"By the time Texas is over, we'll be competitive in the final delegate count," he predicted. Texas holds its primary April 3. Between Super Tuesday and the Texas primary, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana will have held their primaries as well.
Santorum and Paul face an even steeper path to the nomination.
Paul’s strategy is to focus on caucus states, where his well-organized and enthusiastic following can do well.
“We have three or four caucus states that we believe our numbers are doing pretty good, so we have to just wait and see and continue to do exactly what we're doing,” Paul said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.
Santorum, who came in last in Nevada (after coming in third in South Carolina and Florida) and is way behind his competitors in campaign fund-raising, is focusing on Tuesday’s caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota.
That may be true, but at the moment the movement seems to be in Romney’s direction.