Reporting from Las Vegas — Newt Gingrich returned to the familiar role of fiery insurgent Saturday, as electoral drubbings in two states this week forced him to bat down rumors that he was abandoning his presidential bid.
“I am a candidate for the president of the United States. I will be a candidate for president of the United States. We will go to Tampa,” Gingrich said, as early results in Nevada's caucuses showed him and Texas Rep. Ron Paul jostling for second.
Though Mitt Romney was widely expected to run away with the state, which he won in 2008, he’d also trounced Gingrich in Tuesday’s Florida primary. So when Gingrich scheduled a press conference Saturday -- instead of the usual ballroom rally in front of cheering fans -- rumors swirled that Gingrich’s roller-coaster candidacy was nearing an end.
Instead, a pugnacious, combative Gingrich called the prospect of him dropping out Romney’s “greatest fantasy” and said he hoped to catch up to the former Massachusetts governor by the Texas primary in April. Gingrich also returned to a familiar line of attack: slamming the former Massachusetts governor as insufficiently conservative and questioning his honesty and integrity.
“I also believe that the vast majority of Republicans across the country are going to want an alternative to a Massachusetts moderate who has been in his career pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase and who ran third from the bottom in creating jobs in his four years as governor,” Gingrich said. “So I suspect this debate will continue for a long time.”
Gingrich spoke at the Venetian casino, owned by Sheldon Adelson, a mega-donor to a “super PAC” supporting the former House speaker. Gingrich waved off his defeat in Nevada as the product of Romney’s popularity among Mormons, a small but loyal constituency here, and Ron Paul’s superior organizing efforts in caucus states.
Gingrich said he would be willing – eager even – to debate Romney one-on-one, though he jabbed Romney as a below-the-belt sparring partner. He also vowed to keep hammering his message that, in an Obama-Romney face-off, “there’s no choice.”
"The contrast between Gov. Romney and me is going to get wider and wider and clearer and clearer," Gingrich said.
Mark Z. Barabak contributed to this report.