Ann Heisenfelt/AP
Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich listens as his wife Callista introduces him during a campaign stop at Hood College in Frederick, Md., April 2, 2012.

Can Newt Gingrich keep his sputtering campaign alive?

Until this week, Newt Gingrich was running a distant third in the GOP presidential nominating race. With Rick Santorum out, Gingrich now runs a very distant second behind Mitt Romney. What reason does he have to stay in the fight?

You can almost hear the political world asking, “Newt who?”

Newt Gingrich, former House Speaker and a major Washington figure for decades, has been pushed to the fringes of presidential campaign discourse.

Although he’s still formally a candidate for the GOP’s 2012 nomination, he describes Mitt Romney as "far and away the most likely" GOP nominee – a fact made all-but-certain by Rick Santorum’s dropping out this week. Mr. Santorum had been Romney’s last remaining serious challenger.

With $4.5 million in debt, the Gingrich campaign organization has been operating on a shoestring as his principal financial angel, billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, began moving toward the Romney campaign.

“It appears as though he’s at the end of his line,” Adelson said recently. “Because, I mean, mathematically, he can’t get anywhere near the numbers, and it’s unlikely to be a brokered convention.”

IN PICTURES: Newt, now and then

Gingrich has put his donor lists on the market, CBS News reports, “a sign that the cash-strapped campaign has had to put its bread-and-butter on the line to try to pay its bills.” The going rate: $50 per 1,000 small-donor names, and $135 per 1,000 larger donor names.

Gingrich still has things to do. He spoke to the National Rifle Association convention Friday. As usual, he waxed magniloquently.

“Desperate for attention and trying to get back into a conversation that has passed him by, the still-technically-running candidate said he will submit a treaty to the United Nations that would make the right to bear arms a universal human right,” Politico’s James Hohmann reported from the convention.

“Far fewer women would be raped. Far fewer children would be killed…and far fewer dictators would survive if people had the right to bear arms everywhere on the planet,” Gingrich said, earning a standing ovation from a crowd of thousands. “We should say the second amendment is an amendment for all mankind.”

Although he’s been a political survivor, becoming influential and wealthy since he left Congress under a cloud, Gingrich appeared to burn at least one bridge recently when he declared that CNN was “less biased” than Fox News.

“We are more likely to get neutral coverage out of CNN than we are of FOX, and we’re more likely to get distortion out of FOX,” he said this week. “That’s just a fact.”

To which Fox News chief Roger Ailes replied that Gingrich was just “trying to get a job at CNN because he knows he isn’t going to get to come back to Fox News.” 

On his website, Gingrich calls himself “The last conservative standing,” and despite the polls and the odds, he vows to fight on to the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla. in August.

This week he campaigned in Delaware, which holds its primary April 24 (along with Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island – states more disposed to favor a semi-moderate like Romney).

Gingrich picked up the endorsement of a state lawmaker or two. But as Matthew Payne of the Wall Street Journal points out, he’d need a lot more than that to turn a miracle.

“According to RNC rule No. 40(b), to be considered on the convention's first ballot a candidate needs the plurality of delegates from at least five states. So far the former speaker has won only two,” Mr. Payne explains. “Even if Mr. Gingrich were somehow to deny Mitt Romney of the 1,114 delegates required to win the nomination, he still needs to win three more states. If he doesn't, many of his pledged delegates will be released to vote for Mr. Romney on the first ballot – likely putting the former Massachusetts governor over the 1,114-delegate threshold anyway.”

So at this point, it seems, Gingrich is working mainly to keep his reputation as a political player – perhaps to be granted a prime-time speaking spot in Tampa.

IN PICTURES: Newt, now and then

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