As Florida votes, Gingrich keeps fighting

FORT MYERS, Florida (AP) -- Trailing in the polls, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is making a last ditch effort for a second straight come-from-behind win in Florida, where Republican voters head to the polls today to pick their candidate to take on President Obama in November.

While Gingrich has mostly been traveling by bus around Florida, Gingrich flew to each region of the state Monday, urging his supporters to use Facebook, Twitter and good old-fashioned face-to-face contact with their friends to get them to the polls to support his candidacy. And he has five more events today before heading to Orlando to watch the election results come in. Romney at first had no public events scheduled Tuesday until he addresses supporters at the traditional election night rally, but later added an event in the late morning to make calls from a Tampa Bay phone bank. The easy day is a sign of confidence from the Romney campaign.

"We need your help in reaching out to everyone you know," Gingrich said Monday at rally here at an airport hangar with newly minted surrogate Herman Cain at his side.

Gingrich appealed to voters who are looking for a true conservative and stepped up his attacks on rival Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has taken a wide lead in Florida in recent days.

"I think if we get our turnout and we get everybody who wants a conservative, I think we will do very very well tomorrow in the primary," Gingrich added, citing two lesser known polls showing him closing the gap on Romney in the Sunshine state.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday showed Gingrich trailing Romney by 29 percent to 43 percent respectively. The two men had been tied in the mid 30s a week earlier.

Romney has been attacking Gingrich relentlessly in ubiquitous television and radio ads reminding voters that Gingrich was reprimanded in 1997 as House speaker for violating ethics rules of the House of Representatives.

At an event in Dunedin, Florida, Romney sounded confident of a victory on Tuesday, even mocking Gingrich.

"With a turnout like this, I'm beginning to feel like we might win tomorrow. What do you think?" he asked the crowd of 300.

"Speaker Gingrich. He's not feeling very excited these days," Romney said as the crowd awwwwed, "I know, it's sad. He's been flailing around a bit trying to go after me for one thing or another. You just watch it and you shake your head. It's been kind of painfully revealing to watch."

And that reflects the increasingly likely scenario that Gingrich will come up short in Florida after his come-from-behind victory in South Carolina ten days ago. The Romney campaign is working to make its victory as big as possible to make it harder for Gingrich in upcoming states.

But Gingrich has been left for dead before. Last summer, the bulk of his campaign staff deserted him when he chose not to cancel a planned vacation to Greece.

And he was written off by the pundits after finishing fourth place in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to vote in the Republican nominating contest.

One supporter, a Florida real estate agent who asked not to be identified, told Hotsheet after a separate Gingrich event that she liked the fact that Gingrich soldiered on with a shoestring staff last year.

"It was just him," she said, admiring his ability to go it alone for himself last summer. "He knows so much and he doesn't need all the people the other guys have," referring to the large staffs that his rivals maintain.

Gingrich has vowed to go all the way to the Republican convention in Tampa, but questions remain about his campaign's organization and funding. Romney outspent Gingrich in television and radio ads by at least 4 to 1 in Florida and the former speaker is dependent on support from a super PAC largely funded by billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to keep up with Romney on the airwaves.

Adelson and his wife have given $10 million to Winning our Future, the super PAC supporting Gingrich, but if that support dries up, Gingrich will not be able to sustain a protracted battle against Romney. The super PAC has run ads in South Carolina and Florida attacking Romney's positions and his time running Bain Capital.

Even if the finish comes in line with expectations, Romney would have just 80 of the 1144 delegates needed to capture the nomination. And Gingrich could use February, which has relatively few contests, to regroup before the March 6 contests known as Super Tuesday, when ten states make their choice in 7 primaries and 3 caucuses.

Additional reporting by Sarah B. Boxer.


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