After Florida primary, it's Nevada – and a rough month for Newt Gingrich

The candidates head into a very different month of election contests after Tuesday's Florida primary. Newt Gingrich is already playing down his chances.

Scott McIntyre/Naples Daily News/AP
Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks to a crowd of supporters at Page Field in Fort Myers, Fla., Monday. Gingrich made last minute campaign stops in five different cities preparing for Tuesday's Florida primary. Next stop is Nevada, Gingrich's most comfortable territory.

For three weeks now, all the attention in the GOP presidential campaign has been focused on the South – Newt Gingrich's most comfortable territory.

After the results come in from Tuesday's Florida primary, however – and, if the polls are to be believed, Mitt Romney takes the state's delegates – the candidates head into a very different month of election contests.

February is a month of caucuses, smaller states, and geographic diversity. It's also a month that plays largely to Mr. Romney's advantage.

Next up is the Nevada caucuses on Saturday – an event that has been all but ignored by the media this year, because of Florida jumping ahead in the primary calendar. The last poll there was taken more than a month ago, showing Romney with a slight lead.

Nevada is a natural state for Romney. He won it by a large margin in 2008, when he took 51 percent of the vote in a field of seven candidates. It's one of the few states with a sizable Mormon population (Romney is Mormon), and it's close enough to Utah that residents remember Romney's role in the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

The only other candidate looking forward to Nevada – and to the other caucus states – is Ron Paul, who has been campaigning heavily there. Representative Paul, whose backers are particularly loyal, tends to do well in caucus states, and his libertarian message is also likely to resonate more with Western voters than with those in the South.

Mr. Gingrich is already playing down his chances. At a campaign event Monday in Florida, Gingrich told a crowd, "Nevada's tricky because of the Mormon influence, but we have a shot at it."

Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond acknowledges that February holds some challenges for the former House speaker – particularly the contests in Nevada and Michigan. Romney grew up in the latter state and has a distinct advantage there.

"The toughest one is Nevada," Mr. Hammond told CNN. Of the February states, he says, the Gingrich campaign is looking to Arizona, Minnesota, Maine, and Colorado.

Of those, all but Arizona are caucuses, and none of them have any recent polling data. (A poll in Colorado gives Gingrich an edge, but it was taken nearly two months ago, when Gingrich was at his peak nationally.)

Still, Romney seems to have an edge because of the calendar – along with the geography, which is heavy on the West, with a bit of the Northeast and Midwest thrown in. The lack of debates (only one is scheduled in February so far) doesn't help Gingrich, either.

In many ways, given the small numbers of delegates in play, February is a dead month before the real Super Tuesday showdown on March 6. That means it's unlikely to put an end to Gingrich's (or perhaps another candidate's) campaign. Nevertheless, look for Romney-friendly headlines and momentum in the coming weeks, and a tougher road for Gingrich.

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